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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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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

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.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.


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