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There are several theories as to the origins of tennis but many believe that the early form of tennis can be dated back to the 11th century when monks used to play hand ball around the cloisters of monasteries. The game gradually evolved to the game of Real Tennis, the precursor of the modern game, and became very popular with the French and British nobility. Henry VIII was a keen player and had the original Real Tennis court built at his Palace at Hampton Court (see à) but Charles II later re-modeled the court in the 17th century to the court that exists today which is the oldest in Britain.

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Real Tennis was and still is played on hard surfaces, wood or stone, and it was not until the late 18 century that “Field Tennis” or “Long Tennis” began to evolve on grass courts. It wasn’t until the Victorian era that the game of Lawn Tennis as we know it today became popular. Major Walter Clopton Wingfield patented his version of the game in 1873. His design of the court was much the same as it is today in terms of marking but the shape of the court was in an hourglass design.

The shape of the court was modified in 1875 to today’s design and official rules of Lawn Tennis were drawn up by Marylebone Cricket Club. Wimbledon’s All England Croquet Club adopted the sport in 1880 and subsequently changed its name to the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, home of the Wimbledon Championships.

Until the early 1970s, the majority of tennis tournaments were played on grass, including three out of the four Grand Slams – Wimbledon Championships, Australian Open and the US Open. Wimbledon is now the only Grand Slam event played on grass, whilst the majority of professional tennis events played on grass take place in England.

• The modern game of tennis originated from medieval Europe in the 12th century

• Real tennis was played by members of royal families including Henry VIII

• The rules of lawn tennis were refined in the late 19th century

• The four grand slams were established by 1905 and remain the same today

From the royal courts of England and France to center court at Wimbledon, from Henry VIII to Federer the great, the game of tennis is steeped in history and tradition.  The precise origins of tennis are disputed, with some historians dating it back to Ancient Egypt.  According to the official Web site for "Royal Tennis," the game was played in fifth century Tuscany in Italy when villagers struck balls in the street with their bare hands.  A more definable version was played by European monks, mostly in Italy and later France, in the 12 century, based around a closed courtyard.

As it became more popular with the aristocracy, Real Tennis, as it was termed, grew in popularity, particularly among the French nobility and reached its peak in the 16th century as the rules and equipment became unified.  Francis I of France, who reigned from 1515-47, was reputedly an enthusiastic player and was responsible for the building of many courts and also promoted the sport among a wider cross section of people.
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