Tennis is like that person you know who seems too good to be true, but then you scratch the surface and wonderful weirdness is revealed. Death by tennis balls? You got it. Pineapples on trophies? Sure, why not. And that’s just the start. Enjoy these 9 oddball facts about tennis that make it that much better.
Tennis balls can kill?
Scotland’s King James I was into playing an early version of tennis that included balls and racquets but not ball boys, which proved deadly.
James kept losing balls in the sewage drain at the corner of the court he played on at Blackfriars Monastery. This made him furious and what good is being king if you can’t wildly decree that an inconvenient sewage drain immediately be sealed?
Like many capricious decisions, this one came back to bite James pretty bad.
A few days later, assassins broke into his place to… assassinate him. The king attempted to dodge the bad guys by going underneath the floorboards and into the drainage system with the intention of escaping via the tennis court exit. But instead of a bunch of tennis balls clogging up the sewer drain he was fleeing through, he found the newly sealed grate, and was subsequently caught and murdered.
Ball boys weren’t officially introduced as a result, but wheels had to be in motion after this, right?
Pineapples and cream?
There’s a pineapple on top of the Wimbledon trophy. Apparently it represents the tradition of English sailors putting pineapples on their gateposts when they returned from a long voyage. Not sure how tennis became associated with long trips at sea, but this did remind me about the importance of warding off scurvy, so… well done, pineapple trophy.
Tennis balls were originally white!
Yellow balls were first used at Wimbledon in 1986. You know, Wimbledon, where all the rules get thrown out with reckless abandon!
Two gold medals? No problem!
The first person to win Olympic gold in tennis basically just showed up and won.
John Pius Boland was vacationing in Athens during the Olympics and his friend, who was on the organizing committee, signed him up for singles tennis. Boland won, then entered the doubles event with the guy he beat in the first round of singles, Friedrich Traun of Germany, and they won that too.
The match that went 3 days…
The longest match on record took place in 2010 at Wimbledon, when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut went gladiator on the courts in a ridiculously epic 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68 win for Isner that spanned three days and lasted 11 hours, 5 minutes.
Just when it was getting good!
This took too long, Wimbledon: Part II
It was only in 2007 that prize money for Wimbledon winners became equal for men and women. Better late than never?
34 minutes to success only
On the total polar opposite spectrum of Isner-Mahut, the shortest Grand Slam final ever took place in 1988 when Steffi Graf took Natalia Zvereva to the woodshed in a 6-0, 6-0 win to defend her title in just 34 minutes. It takes me 34 minutes to open my eyes in the morning, but good job Graf!
No racquets required
Tennis was initially played with your hands. (Try to play with your friends). It was called “jeu de paume” (game of the palm) and people’s hands were presumably worn and red until the 16th century when racquets came into use.
Nobody knows where “love” came from
There’s no definitive reason we say “love” for zero in tennis. Some think it comes from the French expression “l’oeuf” as in “egg” meaning zero. There’s also the chance it came from the Dutch expression “iets voor lof doen,” which translates to something like “there’s no stake in the game.”
So basically, choose your own hard-to-pronounce expression and run with it.