- Tennis: A Cultural Historyby Heiner Gillmeister
In 1997, Heiner Gillmeister's Tennis: A Cultural Historyemerged on the bookshelves of the world. Perhaps considered the first authoritative scholarly text on the history of the game, his tome was meticulously researched, masterfully worked, and exquisitely adorned with artwork, images, and illustrations. Rightly, Gillmeister's work was well received by both scholars and the general readership, and, despite some minor criticisms, it was viewed as a significant, and some would claim, seminal text.
Given the lapse of two decades, the eagerly anticipated second edition could be expected to be equally, if not more, pioneering, perhaps even surpassing the uniqueness and brilliance of the initial work. However, despite Gillmeister, in the preface, tempting the reader with his acknowledgment that "there have been considerable advances in scholarship in the previously neglected discipline of sport history" (xiv), his second edition surprisingly excludes much of this work. Considering Gillmeister's painstaking approach to his research, such omissions are perplexing, and, while the second edition remains a significant text for the sport/tennis historian, it fails to reach the anticipated zenith, leaving this reader slightly unsated.
In the first part of the book (Chapters 1 to 5), in which Gillmeister skillfully articulates the development of tennis in the Middle Ages, there are significant additions in two of the chapters. Most notable of these are the discussion on "evidence provided by a fuzzy court historiographer" (40) in Chapter 2 and, not unsurprisingly and likely pleasing to the budding historian of German tennis, a significant addition in Chapter 5, where Gillmeister adds more weight to this already heavy section, discussing the German Ballhouse. In other early chapters, there are some alterations to the text, adding minor points of additional information, alongside a few statements that are, in my opinion, rather distasteful, such as the discussion of Malcolm Whitman's suicide in 1932, which Gillmeister uses as a prelude to a clumsy, and unnecessary, attempt at humor.
The second part of the book (Chapters 6 to 9) deals ostensibly with the development of lawn tennis in England, France, Germany, and the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Here, Gillmeister has made substantial additions to the chapter on German tennis (Chapter 9) but makes few modifications to discussion in other chapters. His debate on German tennis is comprehensive, yet, disappointedly, he affords little credit to the role of the coaching professionals from Great Britain in the growth of the game in Europe. Likewise, the "lightweight" chapter on American tennis provides the reader with a basic overview, rather than a comprehensive analysis of the development of the game in that country. In this chapter, Gillmeister fails to address the importance of unsanctioned tours, by English and Irish players, to America in 1895 and 1897 and the significance of Bill Larned's visit to Britain in 1896, and even underplays the myriad of factors that contributed to the internationalization of the game in the pre–Davis Cup era.
However, despite these exclusions, Gillmeister has once again trawled the archives to produce a narrative that adds significantly to the evolving body of knowledge of tennis history. In particular, his attempt at unravelling the role of the Renshaws in Cannes is [End Page 253]noteworthy—debunking the previously accepted notion of the brothers constructing a private court at the Beau Site Hotel. The account follows a well-worn path of "myth-busting": a particular forte of Gillmeister, who similarly unpicks the story of John Pius Boland at the 1896 Olympic Games and appraises Dwight Davis's contribution to the development of the international challenge competition, inaugurated in 1900.
It is notable that, in the later chapters of the tome, the quality of Gillmeister's work suffers due to a seeming reluctance to acknowledge other scholars' notable and significant contributions to the burgeoning understanding of the history of tennis in Europe and the United States. Similar to the early chapters, where Gillmeister fails to acknowledge work such as Roger Morgan's...