Historians believe that the game's ancient origin lay in 12th century northern France, where a ball was struck with the palm of the hand ("jeu de paume"). It wasn't until the 16th century that rackets came into use, and the game began to be called "tennis". It was popular in England and France, although the game was only played indoors where the ball could be hit off the wall. 17th-century nobility from France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and the Habsburg Empire routinely took part in playing. The game’s popularity dwindled during the 1700s, but experienced another revolution in 1850, when Charles Goodyear invented a process for rubber called vulcanisation, which made the material used to make tennis balls significantly bouncier.
Between 1859 and 1865 Harry Gem and Augurio Perera developed a game that combined elements of racquets and the Basque pelota ball game. In 1872, along with two local doctors, they founded the world's first tennis club on Avenue Road, Leamington Spa. In 1873 Major Walter Wingfield invented a version that can be played outdoors on a lawn, but other surfaces were quickly introduced. The world's oldest annual tennis tournament took place at Leamington Lawn Tennis Club in Birmingham in 1874. This was three years before the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club would hold its first championships at Wimbledon, in 1877. Women’s participation in competition tennis also came quickly, they were already competing at Wimbledon in 1884.
In the U.S. in 1874 Mary Ewing Outerbridge, returned from Bermuda with a tennis set. She became fascinated by the game of tennis after watching British army officers play. She laid out a tennis court at the Staten Island Cricket Club at Camp Washington, New York. The first American National championship was played there in 1880, and in 1881, the oldest nationwide tennis organization in the world was formed, the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (now the United States Tennis Association). The U.S. National Men's Singles Championship, now the US Open, was first held in 1881. National Women's Singles Championships were first held in 1887. Tennis also became popular in France, where the French Championships dates to 1891.
The Davis Cup dates to 1900 (the Fed Cup was founded in 1963). In 1913, the International Lawn Tennis Federation (now the International Tennis Federation), was founded and established three official tournaments as the major championships of the day. The World Grass Court Championships were awarded to Great Britain. The World Hard Court Championships were awarded to France. And the World Covered Court Championships for indoor courts was awarded annually. At a meeting in 1923 in Paris, the title 'World Championship' was dropped and a new category of Official Championship was created for events in Great Britain, France, the United States, and Australia – today's Grand Slam events.
Tennis was on the programme of the first Olympic Games of the modern era in Athens in 1896, and for women at the 1900 Games in Paris, but withdrew from the Olympics after the 1924 Games. In 1926, promoter C. C. Pyle established the first professional tennis tour with a group of American and French tennis players playing exhibition matches to paying audiences. Once a player turned pro he or she was no longer permitted to compete in the major (amateur) tournaments. In 1968, commercial pressures and rumors of some amateurs taking money under the table led to the abandonment of this distinction, inaugurating the Open Era, in which all players could compete in all tournaments. 1973 saw the start of the ATP and WTA rankings. Tennis returned to the Olympics at Seoul in 1988.