Anyone for REAL tennis?

Peter Newlinds on an afternoon of Real Tennis with HRH Prince Edward

In Around the Grounds there is a passage or two about my interest and participation in the game of Real Tennis. What is Real Tennis you ask? Let me help you with an explanation.

Real Tennis is the original racquet game with a history that goes as far back as mediaeval times, it is the template for the far better known, more popular and much younger form of tennis known as Lawn Tennis. The game we watch on our TV screens in January.

Henry the eighth was a keen real tennis player, the term serve originated because of him  -  he would be given the ball to begin play on a silver platter, Shakespeare wrote about the game in Henry the Fifth, he refers to ‘the hazards’ an essential part of the games complex and intricate rules system. The Real Tennis world championship is the oldest in any sport.

Hobart Real Tennis Club

The court is more like a cross between a pinball machine and a maedieval movie set than a sports arena. High ceilings give it a cathedral like atmosphere, sloping rooves wrap around three sides of the building, the lines on the floor marked at intervals with numbers and letters are to indicate chases (Shakespeare’s point of reference in Henry the Fifth). There is a slot with a picture of a monk – that is originally where Henry the eighth put his least favoured clergyman – the gives you a free point if you get the ball in. There’s cow bells, winning galleries and a piece of wall that juts out of one corner called a tambour. No wonder devotees of the game gravitate towards each other. Virtually no one else understands it!

Somewhat surprisingly Hobart is a hotbed of the game, the Hobart Real Tennis Club is the home court of Robert Fahey who in 2016 ended a twenty two year reign as world champion.

My interest in the game arose around 2008 when Fahey was winning world and grand slam championships with great regularity and I decided to investigate further.

Within minutes of walking in the door of the club I knew I had to try it and after my first hit I was hooked.

My interest and association with the game as a middle ranking hacker has spanned the past decade.

What I didn’t know when I started playing was it would lead to not so much a brush with royalty as a story to dine out on for decades to come.

The Queen’s youngest son HRH Prince Edward is a keen player too and has a mission to spread the word of the game whenever and however he can. On his current tour of Australia he factored in a game at the Hobart club as part of his challenge to play on every one of the 43 courts in the world.

To raise funds to support junior tennis and also to the Duke Of Edinburgh Award scheme of which HRH is patron tennis club members were asked to bid for spots available to play doubles with the prince, one spot was made available in a raffle which was won by me.

So on Monday afternoon in front of a packed spectator gallery with private secretaries and security guards looking on I walked on the court with HRH by my side as my partner. I thought about this match a lot in the week beforehand and practiced a lot too because my game is rusty due to a lack of regular play in recent times. I figured though that having met many famous people in my broadcasting career and for the same reason not being unfamiliar with nerve wracking high pressure situations I would thrive in the environment.

What I didn’t anticipate was how nervous I would be. In between grappling with these nerves and a certain preoccupation with what to say to the Prince in between points the first few games were a disaster. I made errors a novice would be ashamed of. But as the nerves wore off and a sense of normality prevailed in my mind we turned a 0-3 score line (which then became 2-5) in to a respectable 6-6 before losing 8-6. It was a good, close even tense match.

HRH Prince Edward is clearly a devoted and enthusiastic player of the game as well as one of its greatest champions (in a promotional sense). Through our 45 minutes on court we chatted briefly about tactics and strategies and found a mutual interest in the similarities between real tennis and cricket. In these moments I feel like got a glimpse of part his real personality which appreciates any time he can the freedom to play and discuss this niche game.

This tennis match was a fortuitous and rare opportunity for me, an insight into my own psychology (I didn’t know myself quite as well as I thought I did) and definitely one of the more remarkable episodes in my life in and around sport…

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