Who Invented Tennis? [A Deep Dive Into The History Of This Sport]

By Lin
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Intercolonial Lawn Tennis tournament being played at the Brisbane Cricket Ground, 1899

For many decades, those who play tennis have wondered who created it. The history of tennis has always been fascinating, with many people not realizing just how complex its origin is.

Although the “inventor” of tennis has been disputed over the years, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield is remembered as the father of lawn tennis and a crucial figure in forming the sport we know and love today. 

Because tennis was created in 12th century northern France and was played vastly different than it is now: many people can be tied to its origination.

Are you still curious as to who officially created tennis? We’ve got plenty of history to share, so keep reading!

The History Behind The Game Of Tennis

Tennis has a long, global history, beginning in Europe (northern France) during the 12th century. Initially, the sport was played using the palms of the hand instead of a racket. However, around the 16th century in France, England, and several other European territories, rackets were introduced, and tennis started to take its final form.


The word “tennis” comes from the French word “tenez,” which translates to the plural imperative form of the verb tenir, meaning “hold,” “receive,” or “take.” This term was used as a call the server would yell to their opponent during a game, thus creating “tennis.”

Another thing to mention is the word “racket” is derived from the Arabic word “rakhat,” translating to the “palm of the hand.” Because tennis started as a palm-to-ball play, the term made perfect sense for the original and new way of tennis playing.

The History Of Real Tennis

Tennis, as we know it today, was not always so structured. As we said, the original version included palms hitting the ball to return it, with rackets only being introduced in the 16th century. The precursor to modern tennis, “Jeu de paume,” was a variation of the sport created by Italian priests and was played by local people through the 19th century.

However, over the years, Jeu de paume transitioned to ‘Real Tennis,’ which was heavily played within the royal courts of Europe. Commoners and royalty engaged in the sport, leading to its notoriety throughout the continent.

In the 18th century, real tennis slowly evolved to lawn tennis, which is more commonly tied to its current form, and is considered the birth of “modern” tennis playing.

Lawn Tennis Becomes The Standard

Moving into the mid-late 18th century, the concept of lawn tennis was created. During this timeframe, Major Harry Gem, who successfully combined the elements of rackets between 1859 and 1865, made what was then known as “plota.” This Spanish ball game used rackets to return and serve the ball, all on a croquet lawn playing field.

Major Harry Gem and his friends formed the first modern tennis club in 1874, Leamington Tennis Club.

However, many aspects of modern tennis were created alongside British army officer Walter Clopton Wingfield during the same time. He made the basic rules, an hour-glass shaped field, and aided in the formation of even more tennis clubs.

Lawn tennis, aka “Wingfield’s game,” arrived in the United States a few years later, in 1877.

Why Walter Clopton Wingfield Is Known As The “Father Of Lawn Tennis”

Although Walter Clopton Wingfield didn’t create the game of tennis altogether, he did play one of the most significant roles. This famous Welsh inventor is responsible for the rules and style of modern tennis, often called the father of lawn tennis.

Related: Why do Tennis Players Wear White?

Walter Clopton Wingfield also had the idea of introducing rubber balls to the game, a breakthrough. He can be linked to the net height and length, point system, and concept of exhibition matches on top of that.

The History Of Pre-Open Era Tennis

Before the ‘Open era’ of tennis began, only amateurs were allowed to play in established tournaments. These included the four “majors.” One stark difference between now and then is that there was no prize money but only compensation for their travels.

However, many top tennis players turned professionals to receive legal compensation for their skills in the years leading to the Open era. This set the tone for many players in the sport, as they wanted to be taken more seriously and be paid for their wins.

Before Opens became a reality, tennis players were involved in separate pro events outside the tournaments and majors. Instead, they would tour, mainly playing head-to-head for the prize money.

Many people thank Charles C. Pyle for the first substantial attempt to create an Open, with the foundation of the first professional tennis tour, in the US in 1927.

The Open Era Of Tennis Begins

In 1968, the Open Era of tennis began, and the sport was truly solidified as one where players could make an income showcasing their talents. Until this point, players would have to go on tour to make any prize money, which was highly contested for many years.

What made the Open Era different was that amateur and professional players could play in the four Grand Slam events, potentially earning quite a bit of prize money.

One of the reasons the Open has its name is because the event was “open” to all players.

In April 1968, the first Open Era tournament occurred: the British Hard Court Championships. Shortly after, the first French Open signaled the first Open Era Grand Slam tournament. Ken Rosewall won both; an amateur player turned professional in 1957.

Tennis is a complex sport in history and play, so for those who worked tirelessly to establish it, thank you.

The History Of Tennis Proves Fascinating

Although the originator of tennis is debated, people, including Walter Clopton Wingfield and Major Harry Gem, certainly played significant roles in its creation.

In this article, we dove deeper into where tennis started, how it evolved over the years, and what impacted its current formatting today. Here’s to those who came before us!

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Editor of All Points Tennis and a huge Roger Federer fan, I've spent countless hours studying his moves, especially his forehand and one-handed backhand. I also love writing about all the technical stuff like rackets and strings. I'm super pumped to share my insights with fellow tennis lovers here.