The Martin Pollins Blog

History, economics, business, politics…and Sussex

Anyone for Tennis?

Spencer Gore: Picture Credit and Attribution: Unknown Author. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. URL, here.

Tennis is believed to have originated in 12th century northern France, when what we now know as a racquet first came into use in a game called jeu de paume, or ‘game of the palm’. Hands were used instead of racquets. It developed into an indoor game called real or royal tennis. When he wasn’t looking for a new wife, Henry VIII was said to be a keen player and had his own court at Hampton Court Palace. Real tennis grew into lawn tennis, played outside on grass and enjoyed a surge of popularity in the late 19th century.

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club is a private club founded on 23rd July 1868, originally called The All England Croquet Club.  You probably know it simply as Wimbledon.

On 9th July 1877, the first Wimbledon Tennis Championships were held at its first location – beside the London & South Western Railway in Worple Road, Wimbledon – and it is the oldest tennis tournament in the world. The first final had local land surveyor Spencer Gore comfortably defeat William Marshall in three sets (6-1, 6-2, 6-4) in just 48 minutes.

Spencer Gore (1850-1906), English tennis player, first Wimbledon Champion 1877
The first prize was meagre by today’s standards (see below), bearing in mind too that the players had to pay an entrance fee to take part:


Description automatically generated In 2021, the total prize money was £35m with the prize for the men’s and ladies’ champions being £1.7m each.

The 1877 championships were markedly different to the tournament we know today:

  • The 1877 tournament was advertised as a ‘lawn tennis meeting, open to all amateurs only’.
  • There was only one event played in 1877 – the Men’s Singles.
  • Ladies’ Singles and Men’s Doubles event came onto the Wimbledon scene in 1884, before the Ladies’ Doubles and Mixed Doubles were added to the mix in 1913.
  • Until 1922, the reigning champion had to play only in the final, against whoever had won through to challenge them.

By 1882, activity at the Club was almost exclusively limited to lawn tennis – the word “croquet” was dropped from the title that year. However, for sentimental reasons, it was restored in 1899.

The Club is best known as the venue for the Wimbledon Championships, the only Grand Slam tennis event still held on grass.  It is still widely regarded as the world’s premier tennis tournament, and the priority of the Club is to maintain that status.

Two hundred and fifty ball boys and girls – known as BBGs – have the tough job of tracking all those fast-moving tennis balls. It doesn’t just happen – months before the tournament, BBGs go through intense training sessions to prepare for Wimbledon. There are many balls to track: about 54,000 tennis balls are used every year in the Wimbledon tennis tournament. The balls are stored in a refrigerated container at exactly 68°Farenheit.

The Wimbledon fortnight is a festival full of curious British traditions – strawberries and cream, Pimm’s cups, the strict all-white dress code for the players, Royal patronage, queuing and, that old favourite, rain – although the retractable roof over centre court puts paid to disruptions because of the weather.

Royalty played at Wimbledon in 1926
Members of the royal family have long taken their seats in the royal box on Centre Court, but in 1926 George VI (at that time, he was Duke of York) broke with tradition and played in the men’s doubles tournament with wing commander Louis Greig. He faced Arthur Gore (aged 58) and H Roper Barrett (aged 52). He lost in three straight sets. To this day, he is the only member of the royal family to have played at Wimbledon.

Jean Borotra and René Lacoste were the defending men’s double champions from the previous year but decided not to play together in 1926. Jacques Brugnon and Henri Cochet (both of France) became the new champions.

You can see the Duke of York in action on the hallowed turf by clicking here.

The War Years and the Military
During World War II, the grounds of Wimbledon were transformed into a Civil Defence camp. Centre Court even took a direct hit from a 500-pound German bomb in October 1940.

More than 1,000 bombs fell on the borough of Wimbledon during the German air raids. Wimbledon itself was turned into a working farm to provide wartime rations for civilians and soldiers. Vegetables were grown, and the animals arrived – pigs, horses, chickens, geese, ducks and rabbits. But the courts escaped and were left out of the farming equation.

Since 1946, uniformed men and women from the Army, Air Force and Navy have volunteered as stewards at Wimbledon.

Strictly All-White Attire
Wimbledon rules state that all players must be dressed almost entirely in white. Umpires can ask a player to change if their mode of dress fails to meet the dress code. For instance, in 2013, Roger Federer was told to switch his shoes for his next match because they had orange soles. Over the years, these rules have caused a few problems.

Lady tennis players have donned tiny skirts and shorts during their matches. That is, until 1949 when ‘Gorgeous Gussie’ Moran caused a scandal when she wore ruffled lace knickers very visibly under her tennis skirt. In later competitions, Moran chose to wear shorts rather than skirts.

In 1985, Anne White went further against the strict clothing regulations in her first-round match against Pam Shriver when she wore a full-length white lycra bodysuit, along with matching white legwarmers. It went down like a lead balloon, and the match referee asked Ms White to reconsider her outfit choice.

Anyone for Tennis?
The phrase “Anyone for tennis?” (or perhaps “Tennis, anyone?”) is an English language idiom primarily of the 20th century. The phrase is used to mimic a stereotype of shallow, leisured, upper-class toffs (tennis was, particularly before the widespread advent of public courts in the later 20th century, seen as a posh game for the rich, with courts popular at country clubs and private estates)[1]. Wikipedia describes it as a stereotypical entrance or exit line given to a young man of this class in a superficial drawing-room comedy[2].

A close paraphrase of the saying was used in George Bernard Shaw’s 1914 drawing-room comedy Misalliance, in which Johnny Tarleton asks: “Anybody on for a game of tennis?”

Surprisingly, “Anyone for tennis?” is particularly associated with the early career of Hollywood star Humphrey Bogart, and he is cited as the first person to use the phrase on stage. At the start of his career, in the 1920s and early 1930s, Bogart appeared in many Broadway plays and, in one of them, he is supposed to have said ‘Tennis, anyone?[3]

Don’t miss Monty Python’s take on “Anyone for Tennis?” here.

Cliff Richard, ‘Singing in the Rain’

A person standing in front of a crowd

Description automatically generated with low confidence
Picture Credit: Screenshot from “Wimbledon 96 – Cliff entertains Centre Court” video at All copyright and other rights duly acknowledged

In 1996, during rainy delays on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, Sir Cliff Richard, who happened to be a spectator in the crowd, decided to raise spirits by delivering an improvised performance. Appropriately, he chose ‘Singing in the Rain’. It was sung with the help of an unlikely choir made up of tennis stars Martina Navratilova, Virginia Wade, Gigi Fernandez, Conchita Martinez and Pam Shriver. You can hear and watch Sir Cliff singing by clicking here.

Tennis Trivia[4]
In tennis, the ad court is the left side of the court for each player, and the deuce court is the right side of the court for each player.

In 1985, Germany’s Boris Becker became the first unseeded player to win Wimbledon. Only 17 years old at the time, he also became the youngest player to win the title, as well as the first German to do so. In the final, he overpowered eighth-seeded Kevin Curren 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4. Becker would go on to win a total of six grand slam events before retiring in 1999.

John Isner of the United States won the longest tennis match in history on 24th June 2010 when he defeated France’s Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon. The first-round match took 11 hours and 5 minutes over three days, lasting so long it was suspended because of darkness two nights in a row. Isner won the epic marathon 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68.

The Royal Tennis Court, located at Hampton Court Palace, London, is the world’s oldest tennis court, and it is still in use. Built between 1526 and 1529, it was Henry VIII’s preferred venue to indulge his love of tennis.

The origins of the 15, 30, 40 scoring system are lost in the records of time, but the explanation most commonly given is that it was based on a clock face at one end of the court. The first point was the first-quarter mark that the minute hand struck on the clock, i.e., 15, and the second point was the second-quarter mark struck. Because 45 took too long to say, the third point was shortened to 40.

US tennis legend Jimmy Connors holds the honour of being the only tennis player to have won the prestigious US Open on three different surfaces -grass at Forest Hills in 1974, clay at Forest Hills in 1976, and hard court in 1978 at Flushing Meadows.

Fred Perry, a British tennis player, was the first man to win all four major titles.

Two male tennis players have won the most Grand Slam singles titles – Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 titles each.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka was the first Asian woman tennis player to be ranked world number one by the Women’s Tennis Association and the first player from Japan — man or woman — to reach that status.

Serena Williams has won the most Grand Slam titles of all time, with 23 Grand Slam tournament victories. She pulled clear of Steffi Graf to take the overall lead in the rankings after her success at the 2017 Australian Open, in which she beat her sister, Venus Williams, in the final.

Germany’s Steffi Graf spent 377 weeks at the top of the WTA ranking, the most of any player.

Sources, Excerpts and Further Reading


“Bjorn Borg September 1978” by prc1333 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“Roger Federer” by Doha Stadium Plus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Pete Sampras” by shinya is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Serena Williams” by Carine06 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

  1. Sources: (1) Tom Ferraro (3rd April 2018): “Tennis and Social Class in America”. Long Island Tennis. (2) Oliver Bennet (21st July 1996): “The Spectator’s Guide to Sporting Snobbery”.

  2. Oxford English Dictionary, Entry: tennis, noun, Sense 2.b., Second edition, 1989 [Online edition December 2011], cited at Garson O’Toole (14th February 2012). “Tennis, Anyone?”. Quote Investigator. Retrieved August 6, 2020.

  3. Source: Meyers, Jeffrey (1997). Bogart: A Life In Hollywood. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0395773997.

  4. Sources:,, and

Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: