History of Tennis 1900 - 1938

by Jim McCready

Boston Sunday Post Magazine, 1915

The new century brought optimism to players and officials. Tennis play had now spread to the far-reaching corners of the globe. The game was making front-page news, right up there with world events. New stars with new talents and equipment began to attract the masses to this spectacle. It was much like a boxing match with a white woolen ball.

The women kept it all in stride, as well as contributing their own legendary stars. The first real international celebrity was a 14-year-old girl from France, Suzanne Lenglen, followed closely by the infamous Bill Tilden. Soon a host of great players, from all corners of the tennis universe would carry on the torch.

Leslie's Illustrated, 1918

In the late twenties and early thirties, the lure of court fame was overtaken by the lure of the buck. Professional instructors began to appear and widened the appeal for the average Joe. The real shock, though, was the professional player who cast aside his silver trophy for the relatively small bags of money piled in front of him and his reputation. Banned from the major tournaments for their indiscretion, a very small troupe of pioneers barnstormed the countryside to follow their gut and their wallet.

Program from Don Budge Professional Tour, 1939

Paving the way for the generations to come, these bad boys (and girls) of tennis soon would lay the pro tour out for all to see, and see they did. Crowds increased, awareness ballooned. As the sport neared the end of the 1930's, the quest for the four major amateur tournaments, (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open), to be won by a single player in one calendar year, was afoot. An Australian almost accomplished the task in 1933, the next year an Englishman. Over the season of 1938, the first grand slam went to Don Budge, a red headed American with a legendary backhand. It marked the point when the English garden party sprouted beyond the trim lawns of suburbia and became a new sport entirely.

Lawn tennis had now been abbreviated to just tennis in the public vernacular. After World War II, short trousers and t-shirts ushered in a new breed of combatant. The big games of Jack Kramer and Alice Marble were just the beginning of what we recognize in the mega tourneys of the 21st century. There isn't one player or promoter today that doesn't owe a great debt to the past 140-year's worth of players, equipment and tournaments.

© 2021 The Driftway Collection. All Rights Reserved.

  • Instagram
  • Facebook