Con il passare degli anni, accarezzo sempre più l’idea di giocare contro le generazioni future giocando con la storia.”

Roger Federer

The history

Gianni Clerici racconta la sua "idea"

When was the game of tennis born?
The literature helps us to define a historical period thanks to the Trattato del Giuoco della Pallacorda by Abbot Antonio Scaino da Salò∗, published in 1555 and dedicated to Prince Alfonso d’Este, son of Ercole II, Duke of Ferrara.
Scaino set down the rules of a game, played first in Italy and then all over Europe, whose popularity in Italy can be seen in the “balette”, forerunners of present-day tennis balls.
These leather balls dating from the 16th century – nine in all – were discovered in 1936 inside Palazzo della Signoria in Jesi. In addition, six have been found in Mantua (three in an attic of Palazzo Te and three more in the Basilica Palatina di Santa Barbara), one in Urbino and others from private collections. Traces of another baletta found in Venice have been lost.
The revised version of Metamorphoses by Giovanni Andrea dell’Anguillara, translator of Ovid, postulates that the game of real tennis was even older: in the myth of Apollo and Hyacinth, the Sun god is described as an expert tennis player who, with a killer blow of his racket on the leather ball, hit Hyacinth on the temple and killed him.
Gloria Fossi, medieval and modern art historian, made a very interesting dissertation on paintings depicting this tennis scene, starting from Roman Caravaggesque-style paintings from the following century.
“It is well known that, in Rome, Caravaggio also played pallacorda, which was quite similar to the game of tennis. The rules had already been laid down in Venice in the middle of the 16th century by Messer Antonio Scaino. His complex and extremely long treatise speaks of scores similar to our 15-30-40, foot faults, changing sides, games in pairs like our doubles, in short, it is like reading a treatise of tennis rules today. With the due differences of course. So, it should come as no surprise that an inventive and imaginative artist like the Venetian Giambattista Tiepolo painted Apollo and Hyacinth with a racket and balls on an immense canvas, as seen in the Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. The picture was painted for Guglielmo Schaumburg-Lippe. It seems that the German aristocrat wanted the picture to commemorate the loss of a young Spanish musician, with whose wife he had formed a ménage à trois, during a match with wooden rackets and balls. In the picture by Tiepolo you can see the rope net and the playing field in the background. Who is to say if the young Hyacinth looked like the Spanish musician? Not to be confused with our glorious Rafa. Gossip and tennis injuries still exist today. But in the past the balls were harder. Hard enough to kill.”
Professor Ugo Bazzotti, art historian and one of the members of the club’s advisory board, tells of an interesting anecdote regarding the game played by Emperor Charles V upon his first visit to Mantua, as a guest of Marquis Federico II Gonzaga. It is said that despite the emperor’s prowess, in 4 hours of matches, playing 20 gold scudos per game, he managed to lose the grand sum of 60 coins. Bazzoti writes: “But how? The emperor is a fantastic player and he manages to lose 60 gold scudos?” It would have been extremely offensive – and risky – for the reporter to make such a sarcastic remark concerning the sovereign. And yet this is precisely how professor Giacinto Romano (1854-1920), renowned historian, for many years professor of Modern History at the University of Pavia, transcribed the match result from a 16th-century manuscript. And it is a transcription that to date everyone had accepted. But I – with more and more doubts in my mind – wanted to go back to the source. And so having hunted down the specific passage in the manuscript, held in the Pavia University Library, I found that Charles did not lose – “perse” – but won – “prese” – “sexanta scudi d’oro”. In linguistic terms it is called a metathesis – an inversion of letters inside a word – but in our case it is a misreading of no little account, giving exactly the opposite meaning! “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”, the Gospel cautions, and we obey – albeit five centuries later – thereby doing justice to the royal tennis player who used the balette of Palazzo Te to admirable effect. The result of the match may have had some consequence on the history of Mantua: a dose of good humour for the brilliant sporting endeavour in addition to a large deposit of money from Gonzago into the imperial coffers a few days later led the sovereign to raise Federico II Gonzaga from the rank of marquis to the high office of Duke of Mantua.”
∗ There were no re-editions in Italian of Scaino’s vernacular text until the text published by professor Giorgio Nonni from the University of Urbino in the year 2000 (Quattro Venti publishers), a fact that also underlines the difficult philosophical and political aspects of the discipline. 

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