Backhanded Compliment

The disputed birthplace of American lawn tennis

Backhanded Compliment

T

he locals bill it as the first lawn tennis game in America: the bout between two bored vacationers, cousins James Dwight and David Sears Jr., in the summer of 1874 in the back yard of an aunt’s vacation home. In fact, a game had been played two months before at a Staten Island cricket club (now the site of the Staten Island Ferry terminal) with a different-sized ball. No matter; a marker at the site still claims the distinction for Nahant. What is true is that, by the following August, there were enough players to launch the first tennis tournament in America on that same flat stretch of seaside lawn, and Dwight and Sears went on to become the national men’s doubles champion and organize the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association in 1881.

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The smallest municipality in Massachusetts at only 1.2 square miles, Nahant nonetheless played a big role in the Martin Scorsese film Shutter Island with Leonardo DiCaprio, which was partly filmed there.

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