Jennifer Gray 2013-04-16 01:37:41
Bermuda is indeed brimming with a rich cultural history, one whose stories are sometimes not well known. Chief amongst these is the fact that Bermuda was responsible for introducing the game of tennis to the Americas. In 1873, after a visit to Britain, Bermuda native Thomas Middleton returned to the island with equipment to play sphairistike — the original Greek name given to the sport by its inventor Major Walter Wingfield, meaning skill in playing at ball. Middleton wanted to introduce the game to his wife, but he soon changed his mind. After watching his wife in action, he decided the game was too undignified for his ageing lady and passed the equipment on to Sir Brownlow Gray. That same year, Sir Brownlow laid out the first tennis court in the western hemisphere on the grounds of his home, Clermont House, in Paget. In doing so, he also laid the groundwork for the beginnings of tennis in Bermuda. His daughter Mary became an avid practitioner, and since children were not supposed to take part in games with adults, Mary found a partner her own age, Miss Wood. Sir Reginald Gray, Mary’s older brother, most likely coached Mary and her partner. He was one of four gentlemen to have played the first game of lawn tennis at Wimbledon in 1874 and was also the 1874 World Croquet Champion. Mary and Miss Wood played on the narrow court using uncovered balls and bats made of wood and soon became the island’s best players. The two girls were so enthusiastic about their newfound activity that they inadvertently started a movement popularising tennis throughout Bermuda. In 1874, Mary Ewing Outerbridge spent some time in Bermuda and returned to New York with a net, balls and rackets, having been intrigued by the game. With the help of her brother, she set up a tennis court in Staten Island, N.Y., from where the sport soon spread across the land. The first National Championship — for men only — was held in 1881. A women’s championship was launched six years later, and in 1915 the National Championship moved to Forest Hills, N.Y. Since 1978, what is now the United States Tennis Association Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in Flushing, N.Y., has hosted the event known as the U.S. Open. Tennis has come a long way from the early days at Clermont House. It has grown into one of the world’s most established, popular and best regarded sports. And the game as it is played throughout America today owes its beginnings to Bermuda.
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