Tennis has emerged as a sport that has attracted a strong international following, with many of the world's top players coming from Europe, North American, and Australia. While today's sport is seen as another multi-billion dollar industry with major world tournaments held in many countries, the origins of tennis originate from a game played by monks and elites in Europe's Medieval societies.
While there appears to be some evidence that a ball game akin to tennis existed in the ancient world, specifically ancient Egypt, scholars are not in agreement that this game influenced the modern game. Most of this evidence emerges from words similar to the word tennis and racket. The Romans did play a type of hand ball game that may have been played in Europe and this game could have remained in memory by the Medieval period, influencing the sports development. However, few drawings or descriptions indicate what these early games looked like, making it hard to know if there was a clear ancient origin for the sport.
The clearest evidence for the origins of tennis date to the Medieval period in France at around the 12th century. During this time, a type of court was used where a rope was strung across. The ball would be hit back and forth by hand. The ball was also hit off the surrounding walls and the game likely had various rules. A story emerged during this time that the devil introduced the sport to the order of monks, suggesting perhaps that officials in the church considered this game as a distraction from the monks' main duties. Another Medieval book also questions why archbishops and bishops had taken up the sport. This book, called <i>Summa de ecclesiasticis officiis</i>, indicates the game that resembled a type of handball had become popular in a number of important churches, advising against the adoption of this game by the clergy. The term tennis appears to originate from a French word meaning "take heed," suggesting the origin of the game is from France.
What became known as "real tennis" emerged by the early 13th century in France. Louis X was known to be a found enthusiast of the handball game of tennis. England also became influenced by the game of tennis. A glove was now sometimes used by this period. The key transformation was the adoption of the game by royal households. Tennis courts were now built on palace grounds rather than in church courtyards. Henry V was the first king in England known to adopt the sport. By the 16th century, a racquet was now used and the oldest surviving tennis court derives from this period, found in Falkland Palace. During the 16th century, the game of tennis now became even more popular with the royal court in England. Henry VIII was known to have built a tennis court in Hampton Court Palace and played the game. In fact, one of the earliest known games of doubles originated at this time. Henry VIII and Charles V of France played in a match against the Prince of Orange and Marquis of Brandenburg. The French had developed the game in the 16th century so that a volley, rather than stopping the ball, would be how points would be scored. The rule was the ball can bounce once but not twice; this new rule quickly spread throughout Europe,
making it a firm part of the game's rules. During this time, lines were also added to demarcate boundaries where the ball can land.