Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Wednesday 22nd November 2017 | Manchester, UK

London: A new chapter in British tennis history?

Britain took over tennis this summer as Andy Murray conquered home and abroad to win the Olympics and the US Open in a breathless summer of sport. With the first British man to hoist a Grand Slam trophy since 1936, does Murray represent a new leaf in British tennis?

Firstly let me satisfyingly deflate a historical myth; Britain actually did not “invent tennis”. Some believe that the game originated in the Ancient Egyptian city of Tinnis near the Nile, whilst others believe it was started by bored monks in 11th century French monasteries.

However, it did permeate British society in the Tudor era as a pastime of Henry VIII. Britain can claim to have invented tennis rackets and to have been strongly involved in creating the modern game.

We briefly dominated between the 19th and 20th centuries; William Renshaw won seven Wimbledon singles titles, a record he still (at least for now) holds alongside Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. Moreover, from 1877 to 1903 Britain boasted seven different male world number ones.

British success was no less pronounced in the Olympics. From 1896 to 1924, GB won 39 medals, 15 of them gold. The next closest country (the USA) won just 15 in total. Britain was once really, really good at tennis.

Where did it all go wrong? After a lull in fortunes, the iconic Fred Perry took centre stage in the 1930s, winning a total of eight Grand Slams including all four majors, the last hero of a declining empire. There followed the barren years, darkened by a dearth of glory.

Yet crucially Murray’s success does break the spell over British men’s tennis. The next step will be to overhaul the 76-year wait for a British Wimbledon champion. Should “Muzza” succeed he would re-write British tennis history for good.

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