Tratto del Gioco della Palla, the first tennis book

Italy brought some amazing tennis champions like Adriano Panatta, Nicola Pietrangeli, Francesca Schiavone… , some of the most iconic sportsbrands (Sergio Tacchini, Fila, Ellesse…) but also -and it’s less known- the first tennis book!

Tratto del Gioco della Palla is the first book written about tennis, published in 1555. Antonio Scaino, an italian priest, dedicated the book to his patron Alphonse d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.
The book discusses 5 variant ballgames, including a form of football, but the treatment of the rules and method of playing tennis is the most detailed, and all Scaino’s illustrations are of tennis.

Tratto  del Gioco della Palla

Scaino was apparently prompted to write his book after a dispute arose during a game of court tennis. In it he establishes rules and a scoring system for the game, sets the standard court sizes, and mentions some principles of etiquette to be practiced between players.

It also covers many forms of tennis, his definition of “ball-game” in W.W. Kershaw’s English translation (London, 1951) being:

“a contest between at least two players who, placed one on one side and the other on the other as adversaries, do battle together with a solid and round instrument made from the skin of an animal and capable of bouncing, called a ball, each doing his utmost to obtain victory for himself by striking the ball as far as possible towards his adversary, striking it sometimes at the volley in mid-air, sometimes after the first bound, and sometimes at the half-volley .”

Scaino also wrote about the rackets:

“(A)s the Racket is expensive and costs more than everybody’s purse can afford, a wooden instrument … is often used by many players in its place.”

Shown below is the plate of the royal tennis court at the Louvre in Paris. The court at the Louvre had been constructed for Henri II, to dimensions that the King himself paced out.

Tratto  del Gioco della Palla

The next oldest surviving book on the game was published over 200 years later: L’art du Paumier-Raquetier et de la Paume by François A. de Garsault (1767)

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