Five things about tennis

by Dr Andi
Publish date
2 February 2011
Comments (6)

The tennis is over for another year; some people are still looking for their long-lost remotes so they can change channel and others have made a mental note to reapply sunscreen with more regularity. I’m not actually a fan of the tennis (apologies - this is very un-Melburnian of me) but my inner curious cat or simple animal instinct not to go outside in the searing heat at lunchtime led me to hunt for tennis items in MV collections. So here are five things about tennis that will be useful to mention to your tennis friends as they recover from being dedicated spectators.

1. Before the 1970s tennis balls used to be white (not fluoro green). 

Apparently the fluorescent colour was introduced in 1972 after some research showed viewers could see the ball much better on television.

Tennis balls and bag Tennis balls and bag, circa 1950 or later (SH 880567)
Source: Museum Victoria


2. Tennis balls were produced as merchandise in support of Melbourne's bid to host the 1996 Olympics.

In 1956 when Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games, tennis was not yet reinstated as an Olympic sport. Tennis was an Olympic event in the first modern Olympics in 1896 but then got dropped from the games after 1924. It returned as a medal event in 1988. (Trust me - you’ll need this info for your next trivia night.)

Tennis Ball - Olympics for Melbourne 1996 Tennis Ball - Olympics for Melbourne, 1996 (SH 910002)
Source: Museum Victoria

3. Scandals featuring tennis players are nothing new.

According to History and Technology Collections Online:

Tennis player Billie Jean King became the first high-profile US athlete to come out as a lesbian in 1981 when she revealed her relationship with Marilyn Barnett. The revelation cost her a fortune in endorsements. She said at the time that the long-term affair had been a 'mistake', angering lesbians and gays. She was supported by her husband in a financial claim mounted by Marilyn, but they later divorced, and Billie said that the term 'mistake' had referred to being unfaithful rather than to being a lesbian.

Hmmm, today it might have attracted endorsements from increased exposure in glossy gossip magazines.

Badge - We All Make Mistakes, Wimbledon Dance, 1981 Badge - We All Make Mistakes, Wimbledon Dance, 1981 (SH 920477)
Source: Museum Victoria

4. You might meet your future spouse at a tennis club.

St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, West Hawthorn, had its own tennis club. At the opening in 1925, the Parish Priest sanctified the courts. It was said many members met their marriage partners at this club. After the 1970s non-Catholics were allowed to join.

The two courts were originally dirt and later asphalt and they clearly didn’t have 3a water restrictions back then. The club closed in 1988 and the sign ended up here at the museum.

Sign from St. Joseph's Tennis Club Painted masonite sign from St. Joseph's Tennis Club (SH 890354)
Source: Museum Victoria

I also found this delightful shot of tennis club players in Geelong Victoria circa 1935 (with ladies in their lovely blazers). I am baffled at the unbroken windows in such close proximity to a tennis court.

Street Church Tennis Club members Four men and two women of the Noble Street Church Tennis Club standing by the net. Geelong, Victoria, circa 1935 (MM 006631)
Source: Museum Victoria

5. Early tennis rackets were made of wood and catgut.

The ‘cat’ in catgut is short for cattle rather than cat of the feline variety. The tennis racket strings were once made from a cow's intestinal wall and they were stored clamped in a frame to stop the highly strung wooden rackets from warping.

Tennis Racquet and Press - Slazenger Tournament Model Tennis Racquet and Press - Slazenger Tournament Model (SH 891665)
Source: Museum Victoria

Comments (6)

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Melanie 3 February, 2011 12:41
thanks Andi, loved it. Catgut finally makes sense.
Deb Garrett 3 February, 2011 15:28
Thats amazing the woman in the pic on the far left is my Grandmother! Her name is Vera Jean Garrett just in case you want that for your records.
Kate C 3 February, 2011 15:31

Deb, that's amazing! May I say your grandmother cut a dashing figure in her tennis stripes!

I'll pass that on the the curator. Thanks so much for your comment!

Rod 23 February, 2011 08:59
Although white balls have long been the norm, early tennis balls included covered and non covered versions, depending on the surface. Slazenger in the late 1890's was producing two tone coloured balls for play and the fluoro yellow. In Slazenger's book "A friend of Court" they introduced their Fluoro yellow in 1982 which then led finally to Wimbledon (the last to change from white balls) to change in 1986) In addition to yellow, you will also find orange, hot pink and two tone balls also being explored through the same period. Different ball colours suiting different surfaces etc. AT the end of the day the yellow and now newer ULTRA VIS yellows have proved the winner. see more at
Moustapha 20 September, 2011 11:30
Hi I am wantinig to know if the museume would be intrested in a box of the first Davis cup tennis balls mint condition never been bounced?
Discovery Centre 29 September, 2011 10:32
Hi Moustapha, thank you for yor generous offer, in this instance the curators have suggested that the best place would be the National Sports Museum at the MCG.
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