Dec

26

Thanks to Victor and Laurel for introducing me to this major work on the history of tennis, two volumes with a total of more than 1000 pages, including many gorgeous photographs.

It will take me some time to make a dent in this book, but as I thumb through it I find that it’s the kind of book that I like–one that you can pick up, turn to any page, and start reading something interesting.

Page 310, Volume 1:

“There were no doubt definite rules in England long before Mr. Lukin’s time, and it is possible that there was a printed code, for our attention has been drawn to an interesting passage in a book entitled “The Academy of Armory”, 1688, by Randle Holme… The passage is so interesting as showing how far the game had progressed in those days that we give it in full. It is as follows:

‘The Game at Tennis is a most Princely Exercise; having its first Original (as I have been informed) or brought over to us from the French Court; it is Gentile, Cleanly, Active and most ingenious Recreation, exercising all the parts of the Body; therefore for its Excellency is much approved of, and played by most Nations in Europe, especially by our great Gallants of England, where such Tennis Courts are Built…

The manner of the Play is so intricate that it is hard to describe, which I suppose is the reason none (as ever I could hear) have written concerning it, as of other Games; there being so many turnings, windings and motions of the Body; as also the several ways of striking the Ball both backwards, forwards, under and over hand, and from the rebounds, that they were endless to set down…

Laws of the Tennis Court

  1. They that serve upon the Pent-house, are to serve behind the Blew on the Hazard side, else it is a loss.
  2. If the Receiver miss two stroaks at his Serving, which is two Faults, it is a loss, which is 15.
  3. They that get the first four stroaks, get the first Game of the Set, which may be as many games as the Players order to be in the Set.
  4. All Standers in the Galleries are not to speak a word in the Games except they be asked; if they do they lie liable to play the Game that they (the players) plaid for.’”

The last rule seems to be saying that if the spectators are too noisy, they’re liable to be dragged down on the court to play the game themselves!

Another fine passage (remember, the book was written in 1924.), from p. 360,

“The change in racquets has been perhaps the most marked of all. Mr. Marshall writing in 1878 says, in comparing the racquet of that time with that of earlier generations, that the implement of his day was as perfect as could be conceived. Now, if we look at a racquet of the seventies and compare it with a present day racquet it looks a wretched thing, and perhaps again fifty years hence, the implement in use will be as far ahead of ours as is ours of one Mr. Marshall’s time.”

Around 1974, the steel Wilson T2000 and the aluminum Spalding Smasher were popular, and I remember my own brother saving all his summer’s lawn mowing wages to buy a Head Arthur Ashe Composite racquet, which cost $60 then, which was an astronomical figure at the time. Certainly the wood racquets available then were also much, much better than those of 1924.

Vincent Andres comments:

An interesting fact is that Le serment du jeu de paume, the Tennis Court Oath,
was a harbinger of the French Revolution


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