RETURN to Sports History  

Although the origins of tennis are not clear, many experts believe tennis, then called lawn tennis, was invented in 1873  by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, a British army officer. Although Wingfield claimed that he modeled the game, which he called Sphairistiké (Greek for "playing at ball") after an ancient Greek game, many authorities believe that he adapted the principles of the popular English games of court tennis, squash racquets, and badminton for outdoor play. Early players preferred to call Wingfield's game tennis-on-the-lawn, or lawn tennis. The game was introduced to Bermuda in 1873, and from Bermuda was brought to the United States by Mary Ewing Outerbridge of Staten Island, New York. The first game of lawn tennis in the United States was probably played in 1874 on the grounds of the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club.

The first world amateur championships were held at the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, England (men, 1877; women, 1884). By the end of the 19th century, lawn tennis had been introduced into British colonies and other nations throughout the world. In the United States, local rules and standards for the game varied widely until 1881, when the United States Lawn Tennis Association (now the USTA) was organized to standardize rules and equipment. Under its auspices, play for the annual U.S. singles championships for men began in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1881. The national men's singles championships continued to take place annually in Newport until 1915, when they moved to the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York. The national women's singles matches began in 1887, at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, and continued there until 1921, when they were also brought to Forest Hills. In 1978  the U.S. championships, which had been renamed the U.S. Open in 1968, moved to the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in New York City.

At the beginning of the 20th century the major international tournaments were Wimbledon and the U.S. championships. Early Wimbledon men's champions included British players Arthur Gore and brothers Reggie and Laurie Doherty. Dorothea Douglass Lambert Chambers of England won the women's title at Wimbledon seven times (1903, 1904, 1906, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914). The U.S. men's championships were dominated by American William Larned, who won seven times (1901, 1902, 1907-1911). Americans Elisabeth Moore and Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman both won several U.S. women's championships in the early 1900s, and Norwegian-born Molla Mallory won eight such titles (1915-1918, 1920-1922, 1926).

In the 1920s British, American, and French players were the most successful in international play. American Bill Tilden dominated the men's game, winning Wimbledon three times (1920, 1921, 1930) and the U.S. championships seven times (1920-1925, 1929). French players Jean Borotra, René Lacoste, and Henri Cochet were also successful, particularly at Wimbledon, which one of the three of them won each year from 1924  to 1929. Suzanne Lenglen of France and Helen Wills Moody (see Wills, Helen Newington  of the United States were the leading female players. In the 1930s outstanding men's players included Don Budge and Ellsworth Vines of the United States and Fred Perry of England. During the same period Moody continued her success, finishing her career with eight Wimbledon titles (1927-1930, 1932, 1933, 1935, 1938), seven U.S. championship titles (1923-1925, 1927-1929, 1931), and four French championship titles (1928-1930, 1932). Other leading female players included Alice Marble  and Helen Jacobs of the United States and Dorothy Round of England.

During the next decade American players such as Pancho Gonzalez  and Jack Kramer continued their successful play. Pancho Segura of Ecuador, whose career would continue into the 1960s, also started playing internationally in the 1940s. Dominant female players who began their careers at this time included Americans Pauline Betz, winner of four U.S. championships (1942-1944, 1946) and Louise Brough, winner of four Wimbledon titles (1948-1950, 1955). In the 1950s, Australia became a tennis power, and Australian men won the Davis Cup 15 times from 1950 to 1967, led by outstanding players such as Frank Sedgman, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Roy Emerson, and Ashley Cooper. American Tony Trabert also became a premier player during this time. Maureen Connolly was the dominant female player of the early 1950s, winning the grand slam in 1953. Althea Gibson  won both the Wimbledon and the U.S. championships in 1957  and 1958, becoming the first black player to win those tournaments. During the 1960s, Australians Rod Laver, Fred Stolle, and John Newcombe continued that country's tennis success, and other male players who became prominent included Manuel Santana of Spain and Arthur Ashe  and Stan Smith of the United States. Leading female players included Maria Bueno  of Brazil, Margaret Smith Court, Virginia Wade of England, and Billie Jean King  of the United States, who won Wimbledon six times (1966-1968, 1972, 1973, 1975).

In 1968 the open era began when tournaments were opened to professionals as well as amateurs. In the 1970s Newcombe, Ashe, and Smith continued their success, joined by such players as Ilie Nastase of Romania and Guillermo Vilas of Argentina. Jimmy Connors, whose career spanned from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s, won five U.S. Opens (1974, 1976, 1978, 1982, 1983). Björn Borg  of Sweden won five consecutive Wimbledon titles (1976-1980). Borg's rivalry with American player John McEnroe  during this period ranks as one of the best in tennis history. Among female players, Court, Wade, and King continued their success, joined by Australian Evonne Goolagong.

Connors, Borg, and McEnroe continued their successful play in the 1980s, and other leading male players of this decade included Czech-born Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg of Sweden, and Boris Becker  of Germany, who in 1985 at the age of 17 became the youngest player ever to win Wimbledon. One of the most successful female players ever was Czech-born Martina Navratilova, whose career spanned from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s. During her career, Navratilova won 167 singles titles, including nine Wimbledon titles (1978, 1979, 1982-1987, 1990). American Chris Evert was another dominant female player during the 1970s and 1980s, winning seven French Opens (1974, 1975, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1985, 1986) and six U.S. Opens (1975-1978, 1980, 1982). The rivalry between Navratilova and Evert was one of the most intense and long lasting in tennis history. In 1988 Steffi Graf had an outstanding year, capturing the grand slam and the Olympic gold medal. Other leading female players of the 1980s included American Tracy Austin and Czech Hana Mandilikova.

In the 1990s, Lendl, Edberg, and Becker continued their success, joined by outstanding American players such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Michael Chang. Graf developed a rivalry with Serbian-born Monica Seles, who emerged as a dominant player, winning the U.S., French, and Australian opens in both 1991 and 1992. Navratilova remained one of the highest ranking players until her retirement from singles competition in 1995, and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario of Spain, Jennifer Capriati  of the United States, and Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina also encountered success.

Reviewed by: United States Tennis Association