Tennis, Anyone?

Tennis 1Cara/Andrea here, and as I'm a little under the gun with deadlines and guest, I am invoking the Wench Panic Rule, which allows us to post an oldie but goodie . . . so without further ado . . .

Wimbledon is in full swing this weekend on the verdant grass courts of the All England Club.. It’s one of the “Grand Slam” events, a quartet of tournaments that are the crown jewels of the sport’s elite competitions. (Remember, I warned you all that I am the resident “jock” of the Wenches.) As it’s one of the grand traditions of a game that often appears in literature, it got me to thinking . . .

Tennis 5In historical novels, the words “Tennis, anyone?” conjure up vintage images of elegant figures clad in pristine whites moving gracefully across a swath of verdant lawn. (I’m particularly fond of E.M Forster’s A Room With A View and its descriptions of pastoral Edwardian garden party elegance.)

Tennis 6But take note—Edwardian is the key time frame here. Or late Victorian to be perfectly precise. Any time period earlier and an author is . . . hitting the ball into the net.

I cringe when I read Regency or Elizabethan authors having their characters play a set of tennis outdoors on the lawns. Yes, tennis has been around for centuries—but the game we know today as tennis was not invented until 1874, when Major Walter Clopton Wingfield  filed for a patent on a new sport he called sphairistike, which is Greek for . . . uh, well, lawn tennis. (Not that Achilles was known for his drop shot.)

Tennis 2Thankfully the Patent Office refused to patent the name (can you imagine trying to say “Sphairistike, anyone?” . . . especially after two gin and tonics.) But it did give him rights to the design of his court—which was first shaped like an hourglass, rather than the now familiar rectangle. Wingfield quickly published his rules as The Major’s Game of Lawn Tennis. The game was a hit with the younger sporting set, who were looking for something more vigorous than croquet to play at their country houses. It soon spread to the Continent and America, via Bermuda, and tennis tournaments became a popular pastime for the leisure class.

But back to the “real” story.

Tennis 3The game of tennis (these days it is called real tennis, or court tennis, to distinguish it from the modern sport of lawn tennis) originated in the Middle Ages. Legend has it that the game was created by monks hitting a ball off the angled walls and roofs of their monastery or cloisters with their hands. (In France the game has always been known as jeu de paume—game of the hand.) Racquets appeared in the early 16th century and by the reign of the Tudors, tennis was so popular in England and France that numerous indoor courts were built for the game. (In 1600, the Venetian ambassador to Paris recorded that there were 1800 courts in the city. That sounds awfully high to me, but perhaps it was true,  because it’s also recorded that high stakes gambling on tennis was so prevalent in 1369 that Charles V had to issue an edict restricting play.)

Tennis 4Interestingly enough, one of the first mentions of a female athlete in history was a tennis player. In 1427, it’s recorded that Margot of Hanault played at a gambling house known as the Little Temple and attracted crowds when she took on all challengers.

Court tennis is often called the sport of kings, for royal names abound in the annals of the game. Louis X of France died from a chill he caught after playing jeu de paume.. Henry VIII, an ardent player, was said to have been executing a slice on the tennis court at Hampton Court as Anne Boleyn was losing her head. And on the Continent, Catherine de Medici was known to wear her hair styled in the shape of a tennis racquet.

TenniscourtoathTennis also figured into the lore of the French Revolution. David’s famous painting of “The Tennis Court Oath” pictures the deputies of the Third Estate on the court at Versailles, swearing to fight for a constitution for France. (For the record, the monarchy went down to defeat in straight sets.) Napoleon and Wellington were also said to be aficionados of the game.

A court tennis court is asymmetrical (so are the racquets) and the oddities reflect the game’s Medieval courtyard heritage. While all courts are approximately 110’ long by 38’ wide, no two are exactly alike. Each has its own unique little architectural details to bedevil the players, which is considered part of the charm of the game. However, the elements are the same. The ancient cloister roof is represented by the penthouse, a sloping ledge that runs along three sides of the court. On the fourth wall is a buttress called the tambour. There are openings in the walls called the dedans and the grille. A net crosses the center of the court, but it high at the ends and droops in the center because in past centuries, the monks had no way to tighten it. The floor is a hard, cement-like surface marked with painted lines that look more like football markings than the familiar lawn tennis layout.

As for scoring . . . oh, don’t ask. It’s incredibly complicated. Yes, the games and sets are scored the same as in modern tennis, but winning points is far more complex. As one top-ranked court tennis player admitted, ”If you haven’t played the game, it’s impossible to comprehend.” Suffice it to say, depending on where a ball lands, there are complex rules about playing hazards and chases, which are sort of games within games. (Cut to the chase is a term that comes from court tennis.) Sometimes the best way to win a point is not to play the ball at all! Even experienced players need a scorer to keep track of all the arcane permutations.

Tennis 7For modern tennis fans, this time of year marks the zenith of the game’s calendar. As I mentioned, the French Open—played on the glorious red clay courts at the Bois de Boulogne in Paris—is a much anticipated rite of Spring. And at the end of June, strawberries and cream at the grass courts of Wimbledon outside of London are a cherished English sporting tradition. So as you watch the modern athletes pummel the ball across the net, raise a toast to both the old and the new—and know that the roots of the game are far deeper than those emerald blades of grass.

So, you have a favorite summer game or pastime? (p.s. Happy Birthday, America)

80 thoughts on “Tennis, Anyone?”

  1. LOL, Andrea! This is just as much fun as when the post ran before. I particularly like the ring of, “Sphairistike, anyone?” I can’t pronounce it properly even without the gin and tonics. I recall an important scene in Dorothy Dunnett’s QUEEN’S PLAY that took place in royal French tennis court. I’m not even an interested spectator, but I can definitely get with the strawberries and clotted cream program. *G*

    Reply
  2. LOL, Andrea! This is just as much fun as when the post ran before. I particularly like the ring of, “Sphairistike, anyone?” I can’t pronounce it properly even without the gin and tonics. I recall an important scene in Dorothy Dunnett’s QUEEN’S PLAY that took place in royal French tennis court. I’m not even an interested spectator, but I can definitely get with the strawberries and clotted cream program. *G*

    Reply
  3. LOL, Andrea! This is just as much fun as when the post ran before. I particularly like the ring of, “Sphairistike, anyone?” I can’t pronounce it properly even without the gin and tonics. I recall an important scene in Dorothy Dunnett’s QUEEN’S PLAY that took place in royal French tennis court. I’m not even an interested spectator, but I can definitely get with the strawberries and clotted cream program. *G*

    Reply
  4. LOL, Andrea! This is just as much fun as when the post ran before. I particularly like the ring of, “Sphairistike, anyone?” I can’t pronounce it properly even without the gin and tonics. I recall an important scene in Dorothy Dunnett’s QUEEN’S PLAY that took place in royal French tennis court. I’m not even an interested spectator, but I can definitely get with the strawberries and clotted cream program. *G*

    Reply
  5. LOL, Andrea! This is just as much fun as when the post ran before. I particularly like the ring of, “Sphairistike, anyone?” I can’t pronounce it properly even without the gin and tonics. I recall an important scene in Dorothy Dunnett’s QUEEN’S PLAY that took place in royal French tennis court. I’m not even an interested spectator, but I can definitely get with the strawberries and clotted cream program. *G*

    Reply
  6. I love everything you explain here, history and fun, just my type of thing.
    About a summer game or pastime, well, I’m kind of a flip-flop Queen, so my favourite activity in summer is going to the beach. Apart from that, I like climbing some nice and not very difficult mountain enjoying the good weather.

    Reply
  7. I love everything you explain here, history and fun, just my type of thing.
    About a summer game or pastime, well, I’m kind of a flip-flop Queen, so my favourite activity in summer is going to the beach. Apart from that, I like climbing some nice and not very difficult mountain enjoying the good weather.

    Reply
  8. I love everything you explain here, history and fun, just my type of thing.
    About a summer game or pastime, well, I’m kind of a flip-flop Queen, so my favourite activity in summer is going to the beach. Apart from that, I like climbing some nice and not very difficult mountain enjoying the good weather.

    Reply
  9. I love everything you explain here, history and fun, just my type of thing.
    About a summer game or pastime, well, I’m kind of a flip-flop Queen, so my favourite activity in summer is going to the beach. Apart from that, I like climbing some nice and not very difficult mountain enjoying the good weather.

    Reply
  10. I love everything you explain here, history and fun, just my type of thing.
    About a summer game or pastime, well, I’m kind of a flip-flop Queen, so my favourite activity in summer is going to the beach. Apart from that, I like climbing some nice and not very difficult mountain enjoying the good weather.

    Reply
  11. Ha, ha, ha! Anyone who can say it three times fast deserves a bottle of champagne to go along with the g and ts!
    Henry VIII was an avid player and his tennis court was at the end of St. Jame’s Street, right where Berry Brother and Rudd wine shop is. There are also references to tennis in Shakespeare.
    Strawberries and cream are an iconic part of Wimbledon, along with the ivy and sound of the skidding balls across the grass. (I was VERY disappointed when they changed from white balls to the modern optic yellow, though.)

    Reply
  12. Ha, ha, ha! Anyone who can say it three times fast deserves a bottle of champagne to go along with the g and ts!
    Henry VIII was an avid player and his tennis court was at the end of St. Jame’s Street, right where Berry Brother and Rudd wine shop is. There are also references to tennis in Shakespeare.
    Strawberries and cream are an iconic part of Wimbledon, along with the ivy and sound of the skidding balls across the grass. (I was VERY disappointed when they changed from white balls to the modern optic yellow, though.)

    Reply
  13. Ha, ha, ha! Anyone who can say it three times fast deserves a bottle of champagne to go along with the g and ts!
    Henry VIII was an avid player and his tennis court was at the end of St. Jame’s Street, right where Berry Brother and Rudd wine shop is. There are also references to tennis in Shakespeare.
    Strawberries and cream are an iconic part of Wimbledon, along with the ivy and sound of the skidding balls across the grass. (I was VERY disappointed when they changed from white balls to the modern optic yellow, though.)

    Reply
  14. Ha, ha, ha! Anyone who can say it three times fast deserves a bottle of champagne to go along with the g and ts!
    Henry VIII was an avid player and his tennis court was at the end of St. Jame’s Street, right where Berry Brother and Rudd wine shop is. There are also references to tennis in Shakespeare.
    Strawberries and cream are an iconic part of Wimbledon, along with the ivy and sound of the skidding balls across the grass. (I was VERY disappointed when they changed from white balls to the modern optic yellow, though.)

    Reply
  15. Ha, ha, ha! Anyone who can say it three times fast deserves a bottle of champagne to go along with the g and ts!
    Henry VIII was an avid player and his tennis court was at the end of St. Jame’s Street, right where Berry Brother and Rudd wine shop is. There are also references to tennis in Shakespeare.
    Strawberries and cream are an iconic part of Wimbledon, along with the ivy and sound of the skidding balls across the grass. (I was VERY disappointed when they changed from white balls to the modern optic yellow, though.)

    Reply
  16. Anne, it’s really worth a visit. There’s a wonderful sense of history and tradition when you walk the grounds. And the museum gives a fascinating history of the game. It’s very interesting and enjoyable, even if you aren’t a player or sports fan

    Reply
  17. Anne, it’s really worth a visit. There’s a wonderful sense of history and tradition when you walk the grounds. And the museum gives a fascinating history of the game. It’s very interesting and enjoyable, even if you aren’t a player or sports fan

    Reply
  18. Anne, it’s really worth a visit. There’s a wonderful sense of history and tradition when you walk the grounds. And the museum gives a fascinating history of the game. It’s very interesting and enjoyable, even if you aren’t a player or sports fan

    Reply
  19. Anne, it’s really worth a visit. There’s a wonderful sense of history and tradition when you walk the grounds. And the museum gives a fascinating history of the game. It’s very interesting and enjoyable, even if you aren’t a player or sports fan

    Reply
  20. Anne, it’s really worth a visit. There’s a wonderful sense of history and tradition when you walk the grounds. And the museum gives a fascinating history of the game. It’s very interesting and enjoyable, even if you aren’t a player or sports fan

    Reply
  21. This reminds me of those plays which are set in one room in an English country house, with numerous doors, in the first half of the twentieth century. At some point, always, a beautiful young man will come on-stage carrying a racket and asking: “Anyone for tennis”?
    I just looked it up, and apparently the phrase “anyone for tennis?” is “often used to typify a particular genre of drawing room comedy about the leisured upper class”.

    Reply
  22. This reminds me of those plays which are set in one room in an English country house, with numerous doors, in the first half of the twentieth century. At some point, always, a beautiful young man will come on-stage carrying a racket and asking: “Anyone for tennis”?
    I just looked it up, and apparently the phrase “anyone for tennis?” is “often used to typify a particular genre of drawing room comedy about the leisured upper class”.

    Reply
  23. This reminds me of those plays which are set in one room in an English country house, with numerous doors, in the first half of the twentieth century. At some point, always, a beautiful young man will come on-stage carrying a racket and asking: “Anyone for tennis”?
    I just looked it up, and apparently the phrase “anyone for tennis?” is “often used to typify a particular genre of drawing room comedy about the leisured upper class”.

    Reply
  24. This reminds me of those plays which are set in one room in an English country house, with numerous doors, in the first half of the twentieth century. At some point, always, a beautiful young man will come on-stage carrying a racket and asking: “Anyone for tennis”?
    I just looked it up, and apparently the phrase “anyone for tennis?” is “often used to typify a particular genre of drawing room comedy about the leisured upper class”.

    Reply
  25. This reminds me of those plays which are set in one room in an English country house, with numerous doors, in the first half of the twentieth century. At some point, always, a beautiful young man will come on-stage carrying a racket and asking: “Anyone for tennis”?
    I just looked it up, and apparently the phrase “anyone for tennis?” is “often used to typify a particular genre of drawing room comedy about the leisured upper class”.

    Reply
  26. HJ, Yes, I think in the E.M. Foster era, tennis became synonymous for aristocratic English country weekends . . . lazy days, beautiful people. It was one of the few sports ladies and gentlemen could play together, and I think that social aspect of it is part of its cachet.

    Reply
  27. HJ, Yes, I think in the E.M. Foster era, tennis became synonymous for aristocratic English country weekends . . . lazy days, beautiful people. It was one of the few sports ladies and gentlemen could play together, and I think that social aspect of it is part of its cachet.

    Reply
  28. HJ, Yes, I think in the E.M. Foster era, tennis became synonymous for aristocratic English country weekends . . . lazy days, beautiful people. It was one of the few sports ladies and gentlemen could play together, and I think that social aspect of it is part of its cachet.

    Reply
  29. HJ, Yes, I think in the E.M. Foster era, tennis became synonymous for aristocratic English country weekends . . . lazy days, beautiful people. It was one of the few sports ladies and gentlemen could play together, and I think that social aspect of it is part of its cachet.

    Reply
  30. HJ, Yes, I think in the E.M. Foster era, tennis became synonymous for aristocratic English country weekends . . . lazy days, beautiful people. It was one of the few sports ladies and gentlemen could play together, and I think that social aspect of it is part of its cachet.

    Reply
  31. A wonderful post — it’s a new post for me. I did know there was a difference between court tennis and lawn tennis, but I did NOT know anything specific about those differences. I also did not realize that lawn tennis was so modern! So thank for for the educational fun.
    When I was younger (up until I was about 70) my summer activity was gardening — which isn’t a sport. Since I have reached over-ripe maturity (or old age) I no longer have an outdoor activity to love.
    But I do so enjoy reading about other’s interests.

    Reply
  32. A wonderful post — it’s a new post for me. I did know there was a difference between court tennis and lawn tennis, but I did NOT know anything specific about those differences. I also did not realize that lawn tennis was so modern! So thank for for the educational fun.
    When I was younger (up until I was about 70) my summer activity was gardening — which isn’t a sport. Since I have reached over-ripe maturity (or old age) I no longer have an outdoor activity to love.
    But I do so enjoy reading about other’s interests.

    Reply
  33. A wonderful post — it’s a new post for me. I did know there was a difference between court tennis and lawn tennis, but I did NOT know anything specific about those differences. I also did not realize that lawn tennis was so modern! So thank for for the educational fun.
    When I was younger (up until I was about 70) my summer activity was gardening — which isn’t a sport. Since I have reached over-ripe maturity (or old age) I no longer have an outdoor activity to love.
    But I do so enjoy reading about other’s interests.

    Reply
  34. A wonderful post — it’s a new post for me. I did know there was a difference between court tennis and lawn tennis, but I did NOT know anything specific about those differences. I also did not realize that lawn tennis was so modern! So thank for for the educational fun.
    When I was younger (up until I was about 70) my summer activity was gardening — which isn’t a sport. Since I have reached over-ripe maturity (or old age) I no longer have an outdoor activity to love.
    But I do so enjoy reading about other’s interests.

    Reply
  35. A wonderful post — it’s a new post for me. I did know there was a difference between court tennis and lawn tennis, but I did NOT know anything specific about those differences. I also did not realize that lawn tennis was so modern! So thank for for the educational fun.
    When I was younger (up until I was about 70) my summer activity was gardening — which isn’t a sport. Since I have reached over-ripe maturity (or old age) I no longer have an outdoor activity to love.
    But I do so enjoy reading about other’s interests.

    Reply
  36. So glad you enjoyed the post, Sue. History has such endlessly fun arcane facts, doesn’t it!
    Gardening is a rigorous as a sport—lots of physical skills required in the bending, carrying, digging! So you definitely can call yourself a summer athlete!

    Reply
  37. So glad you enjoyed the post, Sue. History has such endlessly fun arcane facts, doesn’t it!
    Gardening is a rigorous as a sport—lots of physical skills required in the bending, carrying, digging! So you definitely can call yourself a summer athlete!

    Reply
  38. So glad you enjoyed the post, Sue. History has such endlessly fun arcane facts, doesn’t it!
    Gardening is a rigorous as a sport—lots of physical skills required in the bending, carrying, digging! So you definitely can call yourself a summer athlete!

    Reply
  39. So glad you enjoyed the post, Sue. History has such endlessly fun arcane facts, doesn’t it!
    Gardening is a rigorous as a sport—lots of physical skills required in the bending, carrying, digging! So you definitely can call yourself a summer athlete!

    Reply
  40. So glad you enjoyed the post, Sue. History has such endlessly fun arcane facts, doesn’t it!
    Gardening is a rigorous as a sport—lots of physical skills required in the bending, carrying, digging! So you definitely can call yourself a summer athlete!

    Reply
  41. I’ve always wondered why that famous museum in Paris is called the Jeu de Paume!
    I enjoy swimming, especially lake swimming which is much more fun that a manmade pool.

    Reply
  42. I’ve always wondered why that famous museum in Paris is called the Jeu de Paume!
    I enjoy swimming, especially lake swimming which is much more fun that a manmade pool.

    Reply
  43. I’ve always wondered why that famous museum in Paris is called the Jeu de Paume!
    I enjoy swimming, especially lake swimming which is much more fun that a manmade pool.

    Reply
  44. I’ve always wondered why that famous museum in Paris is called the Jeu de Paume!
    I enjoy swimming, especially lake swimming which is much more fun that a manmade pool.

    Reply
  45. I’ve always wondered why that famous museum in Paris is called the Jeu de Paume!
    I enjoy swimming, especially lake swimming which is much more fun that a manmade pool.

    Reply
  46. Isn’t it fun to learn arcane facts! I wondered the same thing about the Jeu de paume, and was so tickled when I discovered the answer a while back.
    Lake swimming is great fun—and agree, any natural body of water is far more fun than a man-made pool.

    Reply
  47. Isn’t it fun to learn arcane facts! I wondered the same thing about the Jeu de paume, and was so tickled when I discovered the answer a while back.
    Lake swimming is great fun—and agree, any natural body of water is far more fun than a man-made pool.

    Reply
  48. Isn’t it fun to learn arcane facts! I wondered the same thing about the Jeu de paume, and was so tickled when I discovered the answer a while back.
    Lake swimming is great fun—and agree, any natural body of water is far more fun than a man-made pool.

    Reply
  49. Isn’t it fun to learn arcane facts! I wondered the same thing about the Jeu de paume, and was so tickled when I discovered the answer a while back.
    Lake swimming is great fun—and agree, any natural body of water is far more fun than a man-made pool.

    Reply
  50. Isn’t it fun to learn arcane facts! I wondered the same thing about the Jeu de paume, and was so tickled when I discovered the answer a while back.
    Lake swimming is great fun—and agree, any natural body of water is far more fun than a man-made pool.

    Reply
  51. Your description of court tennis is fascinating! I wonder whether handball and then squash are developments from that original game – it sounds quite familiar – including not striking the ball! (My late father, who was a long-term handball doubles champion, eventually took up squash in his 70’s because none of the young men would play with him – they didn’t like being defeated by an “old man”!)

    Reply
  52. Your description of court tennis is fascinating! I wonder whether handball and then squash are developments from that original game – it sounds quite familiar – including not striking the ball! (My late father, who was a long-term handball doubles champion, eventually took up squash in his 70’s because none of the young men would play with him – they didn’t like being defeated by an “old man”!)

    Reply
  53. Your description of court tennis is fascinating! I wonder whether handball and then squash are developments from that original game – it sounds quite familiar – including not striking the ball! (My late father, who was a long-term handball doubles champion, eventually took up squash in his 70’s because none of the young men would play with him – they didn’t like being defeated by an “old man”!)

    Reply
  54. Your description of court tennis is fascinating! I wonder whether handball and then squash are developments from that original game – it sounds quite familiar – including not striking the ball! (My late father, who was a long-term handball doubles champion, eventually took up squash in his 70’s because none of the young men would play with him – they didn’t like being defeated by an “old man”!)

    Reply
  55. Your description of court tennis is fascinating! I wonder whether handball and then squash are developments from that original game – it sounds quite familiar – including not striking the ball! (My late father, who was a long-term handball doubles champion, eventually took up squash in his 70’s because none of the young men would play with him – they didn’t like being defeated by an “old man”!)

    Reply
  56. How fun that your father played squash! That’s actually my best sport. (I played varsity squash in college and competed in tournaments after moving to NYC.) I do know something about the history of the game—like court tennis, both squash and handball originated in places where four walls were part of the environment—squash had its start in debtor’s prison! And handball (and a similar ball game called Fives” originated in English public schools where the boys were probably horsing around inside on all those cold, rainy days!

    Reply
  57. How fun that your father played squash! That’s actually my best sport. (I played varsity squash in college and competed in tournaments after moving to NYC.) I do know something about the history of the game—like court tennis, both squash and handball originated in places where four walls were part of the environment—squash had its start in debtor’s prison! And handball (and a similar ball game called Fives” originated in English public schools where the boys were probably horsing around inside on all those cold, rainy days!

    Reply
  58. How fun that your father played squash! That’s actually my best sport. (I played varsity squash in college and competed in tournaments after moving to NYC.) I do know something about the history of the game—like court tennis, both squash and handball originated in places where four walls were part of the environment—squash had its start in debtor’s prison! And handball (and a similar ball game called Fives” originated in English public schools where the boys were probably horsing around inside on all those cold, rainy days!

    Reply
  59. How fun that your father played squash! That’s actually my best sport. (I played varsity squash in college and competed in tournaments after moving to NYC.) I do know something about the history of the game—like court tennis, both squash and handball originated in places where four walls were part of the environment—squash had its start in debtor’s prison! And handball (and a similar ball game called Fives” originated in English public schools where the boys were probably horsing around inside on all those cold, rainy days!

    Reply
  60. How fun that your father played squash! That’s actually my best sport. (I played varsity squash in college and competed in tournaments after moving to NYC.) I do know something about the history of the game—like court tennis, both squash and handball originated in places where four walls were part of the environment—squash had its start in debtor’s prison! And handball (and a similar ball game called Fives” originated in English public schools where the boys were probably horsing around inside on all those cold, rainy days!

    Reply

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