Written by By Jennifer Ouellette, CNN
Her eyes are set on the heavens, leaning her head back with well-aimed buttocks.
On the horizon, her competitor leans back, too, her wings softly in flight.
“Whoa!” Shigeo Katsuragi shouts as the women hit the ball with great power.
The kimono-clad women from Japanese’s Sport Gymnastics Society appear to be driving tennis to a standstill.
It’s 1912, and the players are the original nine pioneers of women’s tennis.
Amateur competition — largely accepted by the British government as well as at the United States Amateur Athletic Association — took place in London in the 1880s.
Tennis that matters
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However, as news of tennis’s widespread availability spread, amateur competitions became too costly for young women’s families. The only amateur competition available to girls at the time was to wrestle, according to the Smithsonian Institution.
Japanese Sport Gymnastics Society was created by businesswoman Tsutomu Yamashita in 1922 to fill this need. The society ran women’s amateur tennis tournaments and an international women’s tennis championship.
Eighty-six young Japanese women, ages 6 to 21, competed in the 1908 Wimbledon, one of the early international stages for women’s tennis. (The tournament was also attended by a team of four men, most of whom were sent to Britain to bolster the home team’s depleted squad.)
Their struggles marked the beginnings of women’s professional tennis — the tournament was initially limited to women between the ages of 19 and 26, according to the BBC.
Today, professional women’s tennis — some refer to it as “cheating” — is popular worldwide. Professional women’s tennis currently features Johanna Konta, Caroline Wozniacki, Karolina Pliskova, Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Spot the visitors
Footage from the 1908 Wimbledon tournament. Credit: Nils Jorgensen/AP/REX/Shutterstock
This year, women’s professional tennis made headlines when Serena Williams’ much-anticipated return at the Australian Open came with a draw of her long-time rival, Maria Sharapova.
In 2016, Sharapova received a two-year suspension after testing positive for drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open. Sharapova announced her intention to return to professional tennis in April 2017. The International Tennis Federation board lifted the ban in December 2017, and Sharapova made her return at the WTA Finals in Singapore last month.
As with many other milestones for female athletes, the 1908 event marked both a European triumph and a victory for women in the US.