Since its earliest forms played in France in the 11th century, tennis has grown to become one of the most popular and prestigious sports, with over one billion fans and a global sphere of influence. It is fair to say that is has seen a number of firsts since its evolution. From racquets to rankings, here is our pick of the ten most iconic moments in the game of tennis.
THE FIRST YELLOW BALL
We have David Attenborough to thank for this. Yes, you read that correctly, THE Sir David Attenborough. When lawn tennis was first introduced in the late 1800s, either black or white tennis balls were used. In 1972, Attenborough realised that, with the introduction of colour television, it was harder for viewers to pick up the flight of the ball or when it clipped the white lines. Attenborough had been the controller of BBC2 since 1967. As a result, the International Tennis Federation approved of the ‘optic yellow’ ball in 1972. However, it took Wimbledon another 14 years to see the (fluorescent) light and didn’t adopt the use of yellow tennis balls until 1986.
THE FIRST SIBLINGS TO BE RANKED #1 AND #2
There is no doubt that the Williams sisters are two of the most influential sportswomen of our generation. With four Olympic gold medals, two Grand Slam Women’s mixed titles and 14 Grand Slam Women’s doubles titles each and 121 women’s singles titles between them, this dynamic duo have certainly made tennis history. In addition to their numerous winnings and titles, they became the first two players ever to play in four consecutive Grand Slams singles finals from the 2002 French Open to the 2003 Australian Open - Serena also famously won all four to complete the first of two ‘Serena Slams’. As a result, they became the first sisters in tennis history to be ranked #1 and #2 in the WTA world rankings list - now that’s an achievement!
THE FIRST OPEN TOURNAMENT
In April 1968, for the first time, professionals were allowed to join amateurs in a major tournament - The British Hard Court Championships. It was a combined men’s and women’s tennis tournament played on outdoor clay courts at The West Hants Club in Bournemouth, England. It was the first tournament in the Open Era of tennis. Ken Rosewall and Virginia Wade won the first open singles titles, while the men’s team of Roy Emerson and Rod Laver and the women’s team of Christine Truman Janes and Nell Truman won the first open doubles titles.
THE FIRST RACKET + EVOLUTION
In the early days of tennis, the tennis ball was hit with hands. Later, the leather glove came into existence. This leather glove was then replaced with an adaptive handle for effective hitting and serving of the ball. This was the birth of the tennis racket. The early racket was invented in 1583 in Italy, however the first tennis racket was made in 1874 in London by Major Walter C. Wingfield. This racket was large, heavy, and made of solid wood, meaning it could cause some severe damage! It wasn’t until 1968 when the first steel racket was introduced by Wilson. Wooden rackets were then to become obsolete when brands like Dunlop and Prince introduced graphite frames in the late 20th century, changing the game of tennis forever.
TENNIS IN THE OLYMPICS
Tennis appeared on the programme of the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, the first Games of the modern history and remained on the Olympic programme until it was removed due to disagreements in 1924. It later returned as a full medal sport in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Taking part in the Olympic Games has become a vital career component for the world’s best players. For example, Andy Murray saw his career excel after his Olympic victory: an Olympic gold medallist in London, in 2012, he was world number one five years later, with three Grand Slams and a Davis Cup victory. But above all, he is the only person in 120 years of Olympic history to successfully defend his title, which he proved in the 2016 Games in Rio. Tennis continues to write some of the best pages in Olympic history - we are sure that there are countless more to come!
THE SHORTEST GRAND SLAM FINAL
The return of tennis to the 1988 Games saw Steffi Graff crowned as women’s singles champion. That same year, 19-year-old Graff demolished Natasha Zvereva in a completely one-sided Grand Slam final. Not only did she win 6-0, 6-0, but it only took her all of 32 minutes to do so, making this the shortest Grand Slam final in the open era. Although ground-breaking, this was only one of her 22 Grand Slam singles titles!
THE LOUDEST GRUNT
Whether it’s returning a serve or being one point away from match victory, players contribute their fair share of on-court grunting and shrieking. Maria Sharapova’s has been recorded at a volume as high as 101 decibels - if you don’t know how loud that really is, stand next to an ambulance siren. It’s also louder than a lawnmower and a motorcycle and only 5 decibels shy of a lions roar. Ouch. The loudest ever, however, was 109 decibels reached by the grunt of Michelle Larcher de Brito. Her opponents must have some courage to face her on court!
THE LONGEST MATCH
Not only is this the longest match to take place in our generation, but it is the longest ever tennis match since the sport began. With a net match time of 11 hours and 5 minutes, John Isner finally defeated his opponent Nicholas Mahut, in a game that spanned over three days on Court. 18 during Wimbledon in 2010. Isner held his nerve until the very end and managed to break Mahut’s serve to eventually win - by this time, the second-round matches had already begun! To put it into perspective, this was the final result: John Isner defeated Nicolas Mahut 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7–9), 7–6(7–3), 70–68. Wow.
THE FIRST PAIR OF SHORTS WORN
Stockings, full-length trousers and shirts were part of the men’s tennis apparel from the earliest male tennis players to the Victorian era. Fast forward to the early 1900s and male tennis players were virtually indistinguishable from test cricket players, dressing in white flannel trousers, white shirts and the odd v-neck or cable-knit sweater. However, in 1932, a major revolution took place in men's tennis. English tennis player Henry 'Bunny' Austin grew frustrated with having to wear cumbersome flannel trousers, and ditched these in favour of a pair of shorts. When Austin wore his shorts at Wimbledon in 1932, he initiated a fashion revolution that would transform the sport forever.
THE FIRST PERSON TO EVER ACHIEVE THE GOLDEN SLAM IN A SINGLE SEASON
This last of the iconic tennis moments proves just how dominant Steffi Graff was in her prime, with this being her second mention in the blog. After a win at the 1988 Olympics and her record-breaking win at the French Open final that same year, she continued to dominate the tennis scene in 1988. She became the only person, man or woman, ever to achieve the “Golden Slam” in a single season, winning all four major tournaments and Olympic gold in that calendar year.
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