MORE people than will ever admit it are going to go tennis mad for the next fortnight. We are mesmerised by the rhythm of play on the Wimbledon courts. Our two weeks of mania, as the Brits get knocked out one by one, is a festival of summer and leisure as much as the curious pleasure of watching the professionals sweat and grunt their ways to a fortune.
What interests me is how a gentle knock-about devised by under-employed courtiers has evolved into a multimillion pound sport. Is it possible tennis offers a cameo version of wider truths?
The game has in some senses changed rapidly. From a pastoral idyll it is now serious money, and some of the rules have been utterly transformed.
Others remain barely amended since Major Walter Wingfield devised "a new and improved portable court for playing the ancient game of tennis" in the summer of 1874. Did you know the original lawn tennis court was hour-glass shaped, the baselines being double the width of the net?
The net itself changed more by engineering than purpose. Originally it was 4ft 9in at the posts and a mere 3ft in the middle. It drooped. Stronger metal posts and then high tension wire improved the possibilities of a horizontal net. Some courts allowed a middle post to keep the flagging