When Did Tennis Become An Olympic Sport?

You may be surprised to learn that tennis, the beloved sport of racquets and fuzzy yellow balls, has a deeper historical connection to the Olympics than you might think. Dating back to the late 1800s, tennis made its Olympic debut at the first modern Games in 1896, held in Athens, Greece. Since then, it has become a staple event, captivating fans around the world with its fierce competition and display of athleticism. In this article, we will explore the fascinating journey of when tennis stepped onto the Olympic stage and the incredible moments that have unfolded since its inclusion.

Origins of Tennis

Early forms of tennis

Tennis, a beloved sport played worldwide today, has a long and rich history dating back centuries. The earliest forms of tennis can be traced back to ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. However, it was during the 12th century in France that the game we recognize as tennis began to take shape.

Development of modern tennis

Over time, the game evolved and gained popularity in Europe, with various versions of the sport emerging. In the late 19th century, the modern form of tennis as we know it today began to crystallize. Major advancements, such as the standardization of the court dimensions, scoring system, and rules, were introduced to provide a consistent experience for players and spectators alike.

Tennis in the Olympics Early Years

Inclusion of tennis in ancient Olympics

Tennis was not initially included in the ancient Olympic Games of Greece, which began in the 8th century BCE. The traditional Olympic program primarily focused on athletic events, such as running, boxing, and wrestling. However, it is worth noting that a precursor to tennis, known as “ball games,” was played during some festivals that later evolved into the Olympics.

Exclusion of tennis from modern Olympics

When Pierre de Coubertin revived the modern Olympic Games in 1896, tennis was absent from the inaugural program. The exclusion of tennis from these early editions of the Olympics was likely due to various factors, including the lack of a unified international governing body for the sport and concerns over amateurism.

Campaign for Reintroduction

Early attempts to reintroduce tennis

In the early 20th century, there were several endeavors to reintroduce tennis as an Olympic sport. The International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) and other tennis organizations collaborated to petition the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for inclusion. These efforts aimed to showcase tennis as a major sport deserving of a place on the Olympic stage.

Efforts of major tennis organizations

As the campaign for the reintroduction of tennis gained momentum, major organizations such as the ILTF and national tennis associations began to actively lobby for its inclusion. Their arguments emphasized the sport’s global popularity, competitive nature, and representation of fair play – all qualities in line with the Olympic ethos.

The Olympic Moment

The decision to reintroduce tennis

Finally, in 1981, after more than 60 years of absence, tennis was officially reintroduced as an Olympic sport. The IOC recognized the sport’s undeniable growth and global appeal. This decision symbolized the acknowledgment of tennis as a sport that had successfully overcome the challenges that initially prevented its inclusion in the modern Olympics.

The inaugural Olympic tennis event

The first Olympic tennis event of the modern era took place at the 1988 Seoul Games. The inclusion of tennis in the Olympics sparked great excitement among players and fans around the world. It provided an opportunity for top-ranked professionals to represent their countries on a global stage and contend for Olympic medals.

Tennis in the Modern Olympics

Tennis rejoining the Olympic program

Since its reintroduction, tennis has become a prominent fixture in the Olympic program. It has been contested at every Summer Olympics since 1988. The inclusion of tennis has elevated the prestige of the sport further and solidified its position among the world’s most revered athletic competitions.

Changes in tennis Olympic format

Initially, only amateur players were allowed to participate in Olympic tennis events. However, in 1992, the decision was made to allow professionals to compete, leading to an even higher level of competition. Another significant change occurred in 2000 when doubles events were added to the Olympic tennis program, providing an additional avenue for players to showcase their skills and represent their countries.

Notable Olympic Tennis Moments

Golden Slam achievements

The Olympic Games have witnessed several exceptional tennis achievements, including the elusive “Golden Slam.” This extraordinary feat requires a player to win all four Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open) and an Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year. Legendary players such as Steffi Graf (1988) and Serena Williams (2012) have accomplished this remarkable milestone, showcasing their dominance in both the Grand Slam and Olympic arenas.

Famous Olympic tennis matches

Throughout the history of Olympic tennis, there have been numerous captivating matches that have captivated audiences worldwide. Iconic encounters between rival players, such as the legendary Wimbledon finals between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, have been replicated on the Olympic stage, adding a unique dynamic to their longstanding rivalry and providing spectators with unforgettable moments of sporting brilliance.

Controversies and Criticisms

Server’s racket controversy

Tennis, like any other sport, has not been immune to controversies in its Olympic history. One notable incident occurred in 2012 when a player accused their opponent of using an illegal racket, which led to a heated dispute during a decisive match. Such controversies highlight the intense competition and high stakes associated with Olympic tennis.

Serena Williams’ outburst

The 2016 Olympics witnessed a controversial moment involving tennis superstar Serena Williams. Following a defeat in the women’s singles competition, Williams expressed her frustration and disappointment, leading to a highly publicized outburst. While some criticized her behavior, others recognized the immense pressure and emotions that athletes experience during such high-profile events.

Criticism of Olympic calendar conflicts

Another criticism often voiced regarding tennis in the Olympics is the conflicting scheduling with other major tennis events. The tight calendar, particularly during Olympic years, puts pressure on players to prioritize their commitments, potentially impacting their performance or resulting in key players opting out of the Games. This issue has sparked discussions and calls for a reconsideration of the tennis calendar to avoid such conflicts.

Impact on Tennis

Enhanced global visibility

The inclusion of tennis in the Olympic Games has significantly enhanced its global visibility and exposure to wider audiences. The Games provide a unique platform for the sport to reach regions and communities that may not have had extensive exposure to tennis. This increased visibility has contributed to the growth and popularity of the sport, inspiring new generations of players and fans.

Increased prestige

The Olympic medal holds immense prestige within the sporting world, and winning an Olympic medal in tennis is considered a highly prestigious achievement. The opportunity to compete on the Olympic stage alongside athletes from various disciplines adds a unique allure and elevates the significance of the sport in the eyes of players, fans, and the tennis community as a whole.

Development of tennis in non-traditional countries

Tennis becoming an Olympic sport has had a profound impact on the development and promotion of the sport in non-traditional tennis countries. The Olympic Games serve as a catalyst for the growth of tennis in regions where it may not yet have strong roots. By having representation from diverse nations, the sport becomes more accessible and inspires young talents from across the globe to pursue tennis as a career.

Tennis at the 2020 Olympics

Postponement of the Tokyo Olympics

The 2020 Olympic Games, originally scheduled for July and August, had to be postponed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This unprecedented decision was made to prioritize the health and safety of athletes, officials, and spectators. The delay presented a significant challenge for organizers and participants alike but ultimately afforded extra time for preparations and planning.

Tennis’ participation in the rescheduled games

Despite the postponement, tennis is set to play a major role in the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics. The world’s top players are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to represent their countries and compete for Olympic glory. Tennis fans worldwide are looking forward to witnessing thrilling matches and experiencing the unique atmosphere that only the Olympic stage can offer.


Tennis, deeply rooted in its history, has come a long way to become an integral part of the Olympic Games. Through efforts and campaigns spanning years, the sport successfully earned its place among the world’s most celebrated athletic events. With each edition of the Olympics, tennis continues to captivate global audiences, inspire athletes, and contribute to the growth and development of the sport on a global scale. As we eagerly await the upcoming Olympic Games, the anticipation of witnessing more remarkable tennis moments and the emergence of new champions further solidifies tennis’ significance in the Olympic movement.