Texas Tennis History

The story of tennis in Texas began sometime in the early 1880s as the upper and middle classes started playing the game. Since that time, tennis has become one of the most inclusive sports in existence, played by people of all ages, abilities and income levels.


The History of Tennis

The game of tennis can be traced back to the 11th or 12th century, when monks played a type of handball on their monastery walls or in their courtyards. By 1500, the use of wooden racquets replaced the use of the hand. A century later, the game had become so popular with nobility in Europe, it is said that just about every nobleman in England had a tennis court. A version of this game, court tennis, is still played.


In 1873, a man in England named Major Walter C. Wingfield designed a game similar to modern tennis called sphairistike, the Greek word for an ancient ball game. In 1874, he patented his game, packaging it in boxes, which contained racquets, net posts, balls and a booklet of rules. In his design, the court was shaped like an hourglass and was shorter than the modern court. The net was much higher on the sides. The court was laid on a lawn and was called lawn tennis. The name sphairistike fell out of use. By 1882, the court, net and rules had evolved almost entirely into their current form.

Lawn tennis quickly spread in the late 19th century after Major Walter C. Wingfield patented it in 1874 and began offering the equipment and instruction in a box set. Come see this extremely rare “Junior Army & Navy Lawn Tennis” pine equipment box (c. 1875-1885), currently on display at the Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame.

Tennis Comes to America

This new game quickly gained popularity around the world. People brought their box sets with them when travelling. This is how it made its way into the United States. Mary Outerbridge brought a box set with her to New York in early 1874 when she returned from Bermuda. She had seen the game played by British army officers who had been introduced to it by Major Wingfield. She convinced the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club to set up a court. The game soon caught on and spread across the country.


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