Continental Colonies: Lawn Tennis in France
Heiner Gillmeister [+]
University of Bonn, retired
An illustrated trade card and a small book containing the rules of Wingfield’s sphairistiké in the French language prove that the game arrived in France prior to the amendments made by the MCC in 1875. The new game made inroads into the country at her seaside resorts on the opposite shores of the Channel frequented by English short-stay holiday makers or on the French Riviera where the English well-to-do hibernated. After the English entrepreneur Thomas Robinson Woolfield had acquired a large property there in the 1840s, Cannes became one of the country’s tennis epicentres, especially in the winter. The place became the main attraction for players from the British Isles, Germany and even from far-away Russia and the United States. Among them were tennis aces such as the Renshaw brothers who according to local tradition were even credited, albeit wrongly, with having invented the very special sand courts of the place. The most famous courts were those of the hotel Beau Site, for decades the venue of spectacular tennis tournaments. Of course, tennis soon took also possession of Paris, the capital, where before long important clubs were founded. The most prestigious of these were the Racing Club and the Club Stade Français from which emerged the Union des Sociétés Françaises des Sports Athlétiques (USFSA; established in 1889) which until the foundation of when the French Tennis Federation in 1920 served as the supreme board also for lawn tennis and organized the country’ tennis championships. The most important achievement of French tennis is Olympic tennis which from the inaugural event of the Olympics in 1896 formed part of the Olympic programme. The first Olympic medallist, at a time when the gold medal was not yet invented, was a young Irishman, John Pius Boland, a student from Oxford who, after continuing his studies of law at the University of Bonn had travelled to Athens. Invited to compete in the lawn tennis event because of the scarcity of competitors he gained a surprising victory. Boland’s diary, which has come to light only recently, perhaps constitutes the most intriguing document in Olympic history.