The predecessor of modern tennis, Real Tennis, a sport played indoors on wooden courts dates back to the 16th-century and was played by English royalty and noblemen. Lawn Tennis, a version of Real Tennis that could be played outdoors was created by a Welsh inventor and British Army officer named Major Walter Wingfield in the 1870s. Wingfield is thus considered the Founding Father of Modern Tennis, and in 1997 was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Below are a section of key dates highlighting the development of tennis, from its formative years to the present day.
1874: The very first lawn tennis tournament is played in the USA
1877: The first World Championship of tennis is held at Worple Road in Wimbledon, London, and is won by Spencer Gore. This would later go down as the first ever Wimbledon Championships.
1881: The first ever US Championships takes place, and three years later the first ever Women’s US championship would also take place. These events are the forerunners of the U.S. Open.
1888: The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) is founded to “maintain the new rules and standards of tennis”. The LTA is still the UK’s main tennis governing body.
1891: The very first French Championships are played, open for French residents only. This event was the forerunner of the French Open.
1900:The "International Lawn Tennis Challenge Trophy", forerunner of the Davis Cup is devised by Dwight F Davis of Harvard University in the United States.
1905: The Australasian National Championships, forerunner of the Australian Open are held for the first time.
1912: The International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF), forerunner of the ITF is established, its aim being to organize and maintain the four major tennis championships of the Wimbledon Championships, the U.S. Championships, the Australasian Championships and the French Championships.
1919: Suzanne Lenglen, the first genuine tennis superstar wins the Wimbledon Ladies Championships title, the first of 21 singles and doubles slams she would win in her career. The result puts tennis on the front page of every major newspaper in the world for the first time.
1938: American powerhouse Don Budge becomes the first player ever to win the much coveted Grand Slam of all four majors in one calendar year.
1947: Jack Kramer wins Wimbledon, then turns professional the following year and establishes the very first credible professional circuit allowing players to earn a living from what had previously been a strictly amateur sport. Kramer, a true entrepreneur, would also help the sports equipment company Wilson design a tennis racquet, and the Wilson Jack Kramer would go on to become the most famous and biggest selling tennis racquet of all time.
1953: 18-year old Maureen “Little Mo” Connelly powers her way to becoming the first woman to win the Grand Slam. Tremendously athletic, her movement and hitting power took woman’s tennis to a whole new level.
1968: Tennis becomes a professional sport, ushering in the “Open Era”. From this point on, all events on the men’s and women’s tours plus the four grand slam tournaments will offer prize money to players.
1969: Australia’s Rod “Rocket” Laver wins the Grand Slam of all four majors for a second time, having first accomplished it in 1962 before becoming a professional. Laver’s achievement of two Grand Slams has never come close to being equaled.
1972: The Association of Tennis Professionals or ATP is formed and Jack Kramer is chosen as it first Executive Director.
1974: 18-year old Bjorn Borg proves he’s more than just a heartthrob for screaming teenage girls by winning his first French Open. Borg would go on to win six French Opens and five Wimbledons.
1974: 22-year old Jimmy Connors ushers in the modern power game, winning Wimbledon and the US Open and crushing Ken Rosewall in both finals. Connors would win eights lams and 105 tour titles, and play into his 40s.
1977: 18-year old unknown John McEnroe comes through Wimbledon’s qualifying event and then reaches the semifinals before losing to Jimmy Connors. Because of his immense talent, his occasionally volatile personality and his longevity in the sport both as a player competing on the seniors tour and as a highly respected broadcaster, McEnroe would go on to become quite possibly the most famous name in tennis history.
1978: Czech exile Martina Navratilova serve-and-volleys her way past baseliner Chris Evert to win her first of nine Wimbledon singles titles. Her rivalry with Evert would be epic, but Martina is best remembered not only as one of the sport’s greatest ever players, but also as a tremendously innovative athlete whose revolutionary ideas on training and nutrition changed sport in general and tennis in particular forever.
1979: 16-year old Tracey Austin becomes the youngest ever US Open champion. She'd win it again in 1981.
1984: After losing in his first four slam finals, Czechoslovakia’s Ivan Lendl comes from two sets down to defeat John McEnroe in French Open final. Lendl would go on to win seven slams and 94 tour events, and become the first male player to train as intensely as an Olympic athlete, raising the standard and setting the bar for fitness, stamina and athleticism in the sport.
1985: Unseeded 17-year old German Boris Becker shocks the sports world by storming to Wimbledon glory and displaying more hitting power than ever previously seen. “Boom Boom” would go on to win six slams, become world number one, and one of the most popular players of the 1980s and early 90s.
1988: Another German phenomena, 19-year old Steffi Graff becomes the last player to win the Grand Slam, adding an Olympic Gold medal to make hers a unique accomplishment. Graff will eventually win 22 slam singles titles and be regarded by many experts as the greatest female player ever.
1988: 18-year old Andre Agassi, sporting cut-off denim jeans instead of shorts, a bleached-blonde mullet and an earring, finishes the year ranked world no.3, playing a revolutionary baseline attacking game.
The rebellious Agassi is a tennis purists nightmare but a marketing man’s dream. Young kids love him, so Nike promote the hell out of – and tennis, and sell both to a whole new audience. Agassi would go on to become an eight-time slam winner, world no.1, noted philanthropist and the husband of Steffi Graff.
1990: 19-year old Pete Sampras defeats Andre Agassi in straight sets in the US Open final. The Agassi-Sampras rivalry would run for more than a decade, and entertain millions. Sampras would go on to win a then-record 14 slams including five US Opens and seven Wimbledons, and his serve, forehand and cat-like agility remain unmatched in the sport.
1997: 16-year old Martina Hingis loses in the French Open final but wins the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open
1999: 18-year-old Serena Williams wins the U.S. Open, the first of what will become an open-era record haul of 23 slams, surpassing the previous open-era record set by Steffi Graff, but still one short of the 26-slam all-era record held by Margaret Court.
For many tennis experts, Serena’s blend of athleticism, skill, power and longevity proves beyond doubt that she is one of the top-three greatest female players, alongside Graff and Martina Navratilova.
2001: Former world no.2 Goran Ivanisevic, currently ranked 125th, is handed a wildcard at Wimbledon, and promptly wins the tournament – a truly unique achievement. Goran, once armed with the “greatest serve of all time” but now carrying a severe shoulder injury, turns back the clock to defeat Carlos Moya, Andy Roddick, Greg Rusedski, Marat Safin, Tim Henman and Pat Rafter to claim his only slam, and capture the imagination of sports fans worldwide.
2001: Venus Williams defeats her sister Serena in the US Open final. With both girls dominating women’s tennis, it was normal that the two would meet in slam finals, and that would happen nine times, with Serena winning 7-2. Controversy arose during the early years of their rivalry, when it was rumored - completely unfounded and denied by both girls - that their father Richard would decide which sister would be victorious that particular day.
2003: Roger Federer wins Wimbledon for the first time – and opens the floodgates on a tidal-wave of slam success never before seen: In three of the next four years, Federer has triple-slam seasons. He will go on to win 20 slams and rewrite virtually every record in the tennis history books.
2004: 18-year old Rafael Nadal stuns Roger Federer in Miami, winning 6-3 6-3. The Nadal-Federer rivalry will go on to become arguably the greatest ever, and is still going strong.
2004: 17-year old Maria Sharapova stuns Serena Williams 6-1 6-4 to win Wimbledon.
2005: Rafael Nadal wins his first French Open title, playing exciting, counterattacking tennis, based upon the Spaniards incredible defensive and retrieving skills, and explosive hitting power, especially in his forehand. Nadal’s powerful physique and flamboyant, expressive personality on the court is the perfect foil to the elegant, reserved Federer, and the two will take the sport to even greater heights in the coming decade and beyond.
Nadal will go on to win 10 French Opens, and be hailed as the greatest clay-court player of all time. He will also win two Wimbledons, three US Opens and an Australian Open for a 16-slam haul.
2008: Novak Djokovic defeats Jo Wilifried Tsonga in the final of the Australian Open to claim his first of 12 slam victories. Djokovic will go on to win a record-setting six times in Melbourne, as well as three times at Wimbledon, twice at the U.S. Open, and once at the French Open. In 2016, Djokovic’s win in Paris means that he holds all four majors at the same time, the first time such an achievement has happened since Rod Laver won his second Grand Slam in 1969.
2012: The UK and Scotland’s Andy Murray wins the U.S. Open, becoming the first Brit to win a slam since Fred Perry in 1936. The 6’3” super-fit Murray would go on to win Wimbledon the following year and again in 2016, en route to becoming the year-end world no.1.
A decade earlier, British tennis fans were resigned to never having a homegrown Wimbledon champion, let alone a multi-slam winner and world no.1, and yet Murray has achieved all of that and more, and hopefully will have more slam success in the coming years.
2016: Stan Wawrinka defeats top-seed Novak Djokovic in four sets to claim his third slam victory. Wawrinka, blessed with incredible power in both his serve and his groundstrokes, especially his single-handed backhand, had for the third year in a row defeated an overwhelming favorite in the final of a slam, having also beaten Djokovic in similar fashion the previous year at the French Open, and Rafael Nadal in the final of the 2014 Australian Open.
2017: Going into the Australian Open, many fans believed that 35-year-old Roger Federer and 30-year-old Rafael Nadal had seen their best days. Nadal was seeded 9th, while Federer had been injured for six months and his ranking had dropped to 17th. However, both men turned back the clock, swept aside all before them and contested an epic five-set final in which Federer emerged victorious.
However, neither man was done yet; Federer would win seven tournaments in 2017 including Wimbledon, while Nadal would bring his slam total to 16 with victories in Paris and New York, and finish the year as world no.1, surely the most unexpected dual-comeback in tennis history.
2018: If people thought Roger Federer couldn’t possibly top his incredible achievements of 2017, they were wrong; by February 2018 he had already retained his Australian Open title, bringing his total of slams to 20, and also won in Rotterdam, surging past Rafael Nadal as the new world’s no.1 player. At the age of 36 Federer is three years older than the previous record holder Andre Agassi.