From the palace courts of Henry VIII to the perennial glorious failures of British players on Wimbledon's Centre Court, the history of tennis in Britain reflects important themes in Britain's social history. In the first comprehensive and critical account of the history of tennis in Britain, Robert Lake explains how the game's historical roots have shaped its contemporary structure, and how the history of tennis can tell us much about the history of wider British society. Since the emergence of tennis as a spare time diversion for landed elites in the mid to late nineteenth century, the dominant culture in British tennis has been one of amateurism and exclusion, with tennis sitting alongside cricket and golf as a vehicle for the reproduction of middle-class values throughout wider British society in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Consequently, the British Lawn Tennis Association has been accused of a failure to promote inclusion or widen participation, with many linking this to Britain's failure to produce a Grand Slam tournament winner since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977. Robert Lake examines these themes in the context of the global development of tennis - in the US, Australia, Europe and beyond - and important processes of globalisation, commercialisation and professional and social development that have shaped both tennis and wider society. The history of British tennis is the history of class conflict, of female emancipation, the struggle for racial integration, the decline of empire and Britain's shifting relationship with the US, Australia and Europe. This book is important and fascinating reading for anybody with an interest in the history of sport or British social history.
Robert J Lake is a lecturer in sport at St Mary's University College, UK