Play Tennis Day
February 23rd is Tennis Day. Walter Wingfield patented the game of Tennis in 1874. Tennis is a game played with rackets by two or four players who hit a ball back and forth over a net that divides the court. The first official tennis tournament was held at Wimbledon in July 1877.
Major Walter Clopton Wingfield MVO (16 October 1833 – 18 April 1912) was a British army officer who was one of the pioneers of lawn tennis. Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1997, an example of the original equipment for the sport and a bust of Wingfield himself can be seen at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum.
In the late 1860s Wingfield was one of those experimenting with a lawn version of tennis. Vulcanised bouncing rubber balls offered an opportunity to develop from the indoor game of real tennis and there were many who had the leisure time to pursue the sport and who owned croquet lawns that could be adapted for it. The precise date that Wingfield brought it to the public is uncertain. Lord Lansdowne claimed that in 1869 Major Wingfield gave a demonstration of the game to him in the garden of his Berkeley Square house, although in that year Wingfield was not a major. Another attribution was to a party held at Nantclwyd Hall in Denbighshire, Wales, although that party actually took place in December. Nor was Wingfield the only exponent. At the same time, Harry Gem and Augurio Perera were demonstrating their game of 'Pelota'. Wingfield patented a' New and Improved Court for Playing the Ancient Game of Tennis' and began marketing his game in the spring of 1874 selling kits that included rubber balls imported from Germany. In his version the game was played on an hour-glass shaped court and the net was higher (4 feet 8 inches). In order to differentiate his game, he named it Sphairistike (which was poor Greek using a feminine adjective meaning 'pertaining to a ball game' without an appropriate noun.)
Lawn tennis was becoming an important adjunct to cricket at the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and was played at Lord's Cricket Ground. In 1875 John Moyer Heathcote instigated a meeting at the MCC to establish a universal set of rules and Wingfield was invited to participate. Wingfield's hourglass court and scoring method were adopted and Wingfield considered his sport was entrusted to the MCC. He suffered personal tragedies including the developing mental illness of his wife and the death of his three young sons and he lost all interest in the game. In 1877 the All England Croquet Club launched the Wimbledon Championship and prior to this, in cooperation with the MCC representatives, developed a new set of rules that excluded some of Wingfield's introductions. Wingfield authored two tennis works: The Book of the Game and The Major's Game of Lawn Tennis.
Wingfield became president of 'The Universal Cookery and Food Association'. In around 1890 he founded a culinary society called 'Le Cordon Rouge' which was intended to develop the science of cookery. At the same time, he was active again as an inventor and experimented with bicycles. He created a new type of bicycle which he called the 'Butterfly'.
Wingfield lived at 112 Belgrave Road, Pimlico, London for a time and died at 33 St Georges Square, London ( a Blue plaque commemorates this) at the age of 78 and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1997.