This illustration from our Victorian Picture Library (www.victorianpicturelibrary.com) shows a tennis tournament in late Victorian times. A mixed doubles match is underway. The ladies are at a considerable disadvantage with their long, billowing dresses and broad-brimmed hats.
Before tennis became popular only the well-to-do young woman could enjoy herself in mixed-sex sports, by following the traditional upper-class recreations like hunting and riding. Women from the rising commercial classes were at a distinct disadvantage. Tennis, however, offered them a unique opportunity to discover new circles of friends, as well as meet suitable young men in sedate doubles matches. By Edwardian times tennis was a must at garden parties.
Tactics would have favoured today’s base-line players: it was considered very bad form to dash to the net and volley or smash. Lobbing was unheard-of, and the ball was to be patted gently back and forth.
Ladies were allowed to serve under¬arm: if they had made any attempt at over-arm serving they would have knocked off their hats. The tennis authorities had suggested that the ball should be allowed to bounce twice to give the ladies time to get about the court, but the idea was rejected.
The game was very different from today, with all the grunting, swearing and objecting that are a regular feature of Wimbledon.