History of Tennis -
An Intriguing Tale
With all the hundreds of hours of national TV coverage of the United
States Open in Flushing, New York, experienced and knowing fans as well as
casual onlookers have gotten an eye and earful of the latest and greatest
in the world of tennis.
But just how many of those hooked on the U.S. Open and other
tournaments know much about the roots of tennis, its scoring and its
fabled nicknames is a moot point. Moot points not withstanding and for the
record, here is data for the most seasoned of tennis observers.
Various theories exist concerning how the sport of tennis got its name.
One theory holds that the French word "tenez" is the root for
the word tennis. "Tenez," originally spelled "tenetz,"
meant to "take heed." And in a broader sense - to play.
Other theorists speculate that the word tennis derives from the ancient
Egyptian City of Tanis in the Nile River delta. The Arabic word for the
city was "Tinnis." The city of Tinnis was a booming locale for
the making of fine linens, and the early tennis balls were created from
light fabrics. Thus, once upon a time there might have been "tinnis"
balls. And the old-fashioned term "tennist" is still used in
some circles to describe one who plays tennis.
Scoring in a tennis game, a source of confusion for some and second
nature for others, is unusual. But there is method to that madness, too.
Fifteen equals one point, 30 is two points, 40 is three points -- and all
of these originated with the progression of rallies or "rests"
in real tennis.
These were noted on a simple clock face positioned near the court. A
player who won a rally would have his pointer moved through one quarter -
the 15th minute. After the next rally the pointer would be moved to 30, or
to the next quarter on the clock. The next movement was to the
three-quarter mark or 45. Ultimately, 45 was abbreviated to 40. When the
pointer went around full circle it was an indication that the conclusion
of the game had been reached.
One of the great all-time tennis nicknames is "King of the
Nets," a term earned by William Tatem Tilden II, a.k.a. "Big
Bill." One of the great stars of the Roaring Twenties, Tilden's
unique style of play featured booming serves and long strides across the
court that enabled him to stay back near the baseline. Seven times he won
the United States Championship. Eleven times he was a Davis Cup team
member. Tilden was the first American to triumph at Wimbledon. When he
finally retired, he had won over 70 tennis championships and truly earned
his nick-name -- "King of the Nets."
Another legendary tennis great, Helen Wills was deserving of her
nickname. She won seven American championships, eight Wimbledon titles,
and four French titles. Her behavior on the court was sphinx-like. She
rarely spoke to an opponent but stared out from an expressionless face
that was generally topped by a green-lined white eyeshade. Her nickname
was "Little Miss Poker Face" and she was definitely that.# # #
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
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