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A court game played with a racket and ball, played in its early forms in France and Italy in open spaces in towns, such as courtyards and piazzas, often with gloved hands or a primitive kind of bat. In England it was initially played in the yards of taverns, or where high walls were available. An early rackets venue in London (late 18th and early 19th centuries) was the Fleet Prison, but it was the schoolboys of the elite public school of Harrow who established regular contests, also developing the variant of squash rackets. Enclosed courts in exclusive clubs made the game an expensive, and minority, sport, rooted in the networks of the public schools and the ancient universities, Oxford and Cambridge first competing against each other in the sport in 1858, and the public schools inaugurating a national championship in 1868. The British armed forces exported the game and from a base in Canada it also developed a profile on the east coast of the USA. Amateur championships were established in 1888 (singles) and 1890 (doubles), and the Tennis & Rackets Association (T&RA) formed as the English governing body in 1907. Men's singles and double events were held at the Olympic Games just once, in London in 1908, when all medallists were British.

During its ‘centenary season’ of 2007–8 the T&RA could still champion the principles of amateurism, and uphold rules of amateur status, stating that the ‘spirit of the Rules’ involved ‘playing for the love of doing so and for no financial gain’. At the same time it could boast a high-profile list of sponsors: lead sponsors British Land (real estate) and Lacoste (fashion); Square Mile Sourcing (information technology specialists); Pol Roger Champagne; Neptune (investment management); The Jester's Club/Cos d'Estournel (connoisseur wine outlet); Hiscox (insurance); Grays (sports clothing and equipment, particularly rackets); Cambridge Tele.com (communications); and Spring Law (business law, including sport litigation). The schools' racket results listed on the T&RA website confirmed the continuing exclusive base of the sport, and a link to T&RA sponsor Spring Law showed the firm to be winner of the Law Society Rugby 7s in 2007, further reaffirming the buoyancy of old public school values in networks of elite British business and sport. At the centenary ball (£115 per ticket for those over 28 years old) in April 2008, a Brazilian samba band and dancers provided the floor show, Pol Roger the champagne reception.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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