Tennis is a sport known around the world and played and watched by millions. There are professional tournaments almost every week with the four grand slam championships as the highlights. And of the four, the Wimbledon grass court championships are looked upon by most as the one to win. It is associated so much with the sport that many think it was invented there.
But it wasn’t. It was first played in Berkeley Square in the middle of Mayfair, London. I am of course referring to lawn tennis. The sport of Real Tennis is different and has a much longer history; Henry VIII was a fan and played it at Hampton Court Palace.
However, on the south side of Berkeley Square used to stand a property called Landsdowne House which was home to Lord Landsdowne. It was there in 1869 that an acquaintance of his – a Major Winfield, visited and spoke about a new game he had thought up. It was designed to be played by four players and only required a relatively small area of grass.
Landsdowne was so intrigued that he asked the major to set up the game in his garden and then invited some friends to join him to try it out. One of these friends was AJ Balfour who would one day become prime minister.
The game turned out to be a success and soon caught on with many others. But there’s a curious fact associated with this original game. Major Winfield had called the game Sphairistike, which unsurprisingly did not catch on. It was, in fact, Balfour who coined the name lawn tennis which did stick.