We all know that a game of tennis provides a terrific cross-training cardio workout, improves flexibility, co-ordination and bone health, along with burning calories and fat. If you’ve never played and want to give tennis a go, perhaps inspired by watching the great and good play at Wimbledon, there are many local clubs that specialise in tennis coaching, such as this one.
But did you know that it is also responsible for generating some fascinating facts since it was invented centuries ago?
Fact 1: No rackets required
When tennis was first played in the 11th or 12th century there were no rackets involved at all. Players hit the ball – which was originally white – with the palms of their hands, earning it the name jeu de paume (game of the palm) and its proponents very sore hands. This is often referred to as real tennis or royal tennis.
Rackets were not used until the 16th century, when it became known as tennis – possibly from the French word tenez, meaning ‘take, hold or receive’.
Fact 2: Tennis the monarch murderer
Tennis has been directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of at least three kings in Scotland and France.
One of the most famous ‘death by tennis’ stories involves the 1437 assassination of King James I of Scotland, an early tennis enthusiast. Fed up with losing balls down a drain next to the tennis court at Blackfriars Monastery, where his royal apartments were, the king ordered it be blocked up. Soon after, assassins broke into the monastery and James attempted to escape under the bedroom floorboards and into the sewage system but because the drain had been sealed he was trapped and murdered.
Two French kings also died from playing tennis: Louis X succumbed after a nasty chill, caught after playing jeu de paume at the Chateau de Vincennes while a 28-year-old Charles VIII died after hitting his head on a doorframe leading to his tennis court while rushing to watch a game!
Fact 3: Wimbledon world records
The Wimbledon Championships are famous for some impressive tennis statistics and world records.
Wimbledon holds the distinction of hosting the longest professional tennis match on record. In 2010, American tennis player John Isner faced Frenchman Nicolas Mahut over a 3-day, 5-set match at the All England Club. The match lasted 11 hours and five minutes, after two stoppages for darkness. The first-round match finally wrapped up after Isner won by 70 to 68 games in the 5th set.
Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world, first taking place in 1877 when the men’s singles was the only event held. It’s also the only major tennis tournament still played on grass.
Women’s singles did not begin until 11 years later in 1888, when a field of 13 women vied to win a silver flower basket worth 20 guineas. Foreshadowing Venus and Serena Wiliiams’ later rivalry, two sisters, Maud and Lilian Watson (the daughters of a Warwickshire vicar), faced each other in the final. Maud scooped the basket and won the title again the next year.
What’s more, Wimbledon is the largest catered annual sports event in Europe, with 2,200 staff and vast quantities of food and drink consumed including about 330,000 cups of tea and coffee, 320,000 glasses of Pimms, 17,000 portions of Fish & Chips, 34,000kg of strawberries and 10,000 litres of cream.
Fact 4: Margaret Court still making headlines 50 years on
Australian tennis player Margaret Court holds the world record for winning the most Grand Slam singles titles, winning 24 titles between 1960 and 1975. She is also the only woman in tennis history to compete a multiple grand slam set twice, winning the singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
Court has attracted another kind of notoriety more recently for her opposition to LGBTI rights and for her vocal stance against Australian same-sex marriage reforms. She famously wrote a letter in 2017 to The West Australian newspaper criticising Qantas airlines for being a corporate supporter of same-sex marriage and vowing to boycott the airline. Court, now a Christian minister in Perth, Western Australia, said that same-sex marriage would destroy freedom of speech. Calls to rename the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne have so far been rebuffed by politicians.
Fact 5: Paralympic tennis begins
Paralympic tennis was first introduced into the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. The sport was invented in the USA in 1976 after Brad Parks, who was recovering from a skiing accident, hit a tennis ball from a wheelchair and realised the sport’s potential.
The game follows the same rules as able-bodied tennis with only one exception: the ball is allowed to bounce twice and only the initial bounce must be within the court boundaries. No changes to racket, balls or court size are needed.
The first ever Paralympic-only venue to be built at a Games was the wheelchair tennis venue Eton Manor, which was purpose built for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. It has nine competition courts and four practice courts, with a capacity of 10,500 spectators.