Oh, how things have changed!

If the ladies and gentlemen of Victorian England could see the vast riches and intense competition that goes into tennis these days they would turn in their graves! Like many other sports we British claim to have invented tennis (in those days called lawn tennis from the simple logical reason that it was invariably played on a lawn) but the truth as ever is slightly different; it probably grew out of a French game that was played some 600 years earlier called 'jeu de paume' (literally translated: the palm game) which is still played all these years later only now it is called 'real tennis'. Naturally we English do not accept that this is a French invention despite the historical evidence!

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Now the boring bit, and my apologies if this is obvious; the game is played between either two people or two pairs of people in a court across which there is a net. The objective is to smack a hollow rubber ball with a strung racket over the net into your opponents half; if the ball finishes up on your opponent's side but outside his or her allotted area then you gain points! It all sounds very easy and very simple but the gentlemanly and leisured game that our Victorian ancestors knew and loved is now a cutthroat battle with literally tens of millions of pounds at stake; rather than staid ladies in corsets tapping balls over to their fiancées in flannels and straw boaters we are now treated to the spectacles of muscular and scantily clad contestants of either sex (or both!) using almost superhuman stamina, great muscular strength and complex intensively rehearsed tactics to wear down and defeat the opponent. In the meanwhile a huge industry has grown up to exploit the marketing potentials of the sport; not only do balls and rackets change hands at prices which many of us would consider extortionate but no fashion conscious young girl would now have a complete wardrobe without a full tennis outfit or two in the latest fashion and colours, all of which can be guaranteed to change before next season. Even science has crashed in on the act; vast sums have been expended to find the lightest and most effective designs and materials for rackets; the old board and gut stringed devices of the past have given way to lightweight metal frames and even carbon fibre masterpieces, and tennis balls are routinely fired from miniature canons and filmed in slow motion so that every single physical characteristic can be tested, stressed, and analysed in an attempt to discover the slightest advantage to be gained from it. It all sounds so very un-English to me, somehow.

Copyright Andy Foster 2009