Australian tennis at the national and international level has seen considerable concentration in Melbourne. Tennis had its advent as a pastime and a sport in the Australian colonies in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Competitive tennis had its initiation in the Melbourne Cricket Club championships for men (1880) and women (1884), and in the establishment of a Melbourne men's pennant competition in 1884, the precursor of the Lawn Tennis Association of Victoria (LTAV) pennant competition, the Victorian Tennis Association (VTA) competition and the current Tennis Victoria pennant competition. Equivalent 'badge' competitions in Sydney began in 1890. Significant also for Melbourne's early status was the establishment of the Geelong Lawn Tennis Club in 1882 (since Geelong has always participated in the Melbourne competition) and the South Yarra (later Royal South Yarra) Tennis Club in 1884. Late 19th- and early 20th-century tennis was a game played principally by the privileged, the better players coming from independent school and professional backgrounds. It was a period when tennis prowess was developed at the more exclusive tennis clubs or at tennis parties and matches on private courts. This Melbourne social context threw up a world champion, later to be Australia's most powerful tennis administrator, (Sir) Norman Brookes. His role, with the New Zealander Anthony Wilding, in winning the Davis Cup from the Americans at the Warehouseman's Cricket Ground (the Albert Ground) in St Kilda Road during a heatwave in 1908, as well as his exploits at Wimbledon, in Europe and in the USA as an individual player and as Davis Cup captain, focused world attention anew not only on tennis as a sport but also on Melbourne and Melbourne tennis. What spectators saw of the dour physical and mental strength of the players in the 1908 Davis Cup tie also tended to modify the feeling of the general football- and cricket-loving public that tennis was a 'milk-and-water' sport, suitable for ladies but beneath the contempt of Australian males. For three decades from 1905 a coterie of prominent male players developed around Brookes in Melbourne and Geelong: Alfred Dunlop, Gerald Patterson, Bob Schlesinger, Pat O'Hara Wood, 'Sos' Werheim, Jack Hawkes, Harry Hassett and Harry Hopman were notable among them.
The Kooyong Tennis Stadium was developed from 1919 as the focal venue for the LTAV (which became the VTA and is now known as Tennis Victoria, based at Melbourne Park). This and the location of the Australian Tennis Championships at Kooyong from 1972 to 1988 and, since then, of the Australian Open Tennis Championships at Melbourne Park, along with the fact that the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia (trading as Tennis Australia) is also based in Melbourne, have cemented Melbourne's reputation in international tennis. Melbourne's pennant competition has also nurtured tennis administrators such as Brian Tobin, Colin Stubs and Paul McNamee, as well as outstanding Australian players, both men and women: Harry and Nell Hopman, captains of the Davis Cup and women's teams respectively in the 1950s and 1960s; Neale Fraser, Davis Cup team captain in the 1980s; Nancy Wynne (Bolton) in the 1940s; Frank Sedgman, Ashley Cooper, Rex Hartwig and Mervyn Rose in the 1950s; Pat Cash, Judy Tegart (Dalton), Paul McNamee, Peter McNamara, Margaret Smith (Court), Kerry Melville (Reid) and Lorraine Coghlan in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s; Nicole Provis (Bradtke) and Mark Philippoussis in the 1990s. Historically, the clubs that have most frequently won the pennant for men's competition at the highest level in Melbourne have been the MCC, Grace Park and (Royal) South Yarra, and for women, (Royal) South Yarra and Grace Park, but since the 1970s the greater pluralism of Melbourne tennis has seen the title go to several newer suburban clubs such as Dingley, Doncaster, Beaumaris and Donvale. Given the availability of expert coaching, players in these competitions can now compete in tournaments for prize money and may aspire to play the international satellite circuit.
The democratic broadening in tennis participation in Melbourne begun in the 1920s and 1930s has in recent decades also become multicultural, with the popularity of tennis reaching a peak in the 1990s and since. Facilities for wide participation have become readily available, and many more tennis-watchers are also at least occasional and marginally expert players. However, at the same time, the membership of tennis clubs for the more serious players has declined in the face of the unpredictability of weekend working hours (especially for young people) and competition from the other sports and pastimes available to a population with the affluence and mobility to pursue them.