Reflections and Links After c6 Months of Real Tennis, 24 July 2016

Photo by Horacio Gomes on a GNU Free Documentation License.
Jesmond Dene Real Tennis Court (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne) Seen From Hazard End. Photo by Horacio Gomes on a GNU Free Documentation License.

I took up real tennis at Lord’s about six months ago, having some lessons in January before disappearing to Nicaragua for much of February and then starting to play in earnest on our return from holiday.

At the time of writing, I have probably played some 40 competitive hours on court. Or, as Chris Swallow, one of the coaches at Lord’s puts it:

in real tennis terms, Ian, you are still in nappies.

Background

Real tennis is the ancient game from which most modern court ball games (squash, lawn tennis, fives) derived – the Wikipedia entry – click here – gives a very good overview.

Here is a link to the Tennis and Rackets Association site, where you can find lots more information about the game and video footage of recent big matches.

It is an asymmetric game in many ways, not least the service end and the receiving end (known as the hazard end) have very different characteristics.

Photo by Horacio Gomes on a GNU Free Documentation License.
Bristol and Bath Real Tennis Court Seen From The Service End. Photo by Horacio Gomes on a GNU Free Documentation License.

Even the rackets are asymmetric (see photo below). The balls are hand-made, therefore not completely round, solid and hard. The game can seem more than a bit strange to the uninitiated. Alex Bowden, aka King Cricket, who joined me for the first day of the Sri Lanka test this year, described it (in his “report” – click here) as:

…an almost entirely baffling experience. As far as we can work out, those who commit to real tennis from an early enough age must at some point hit some sort of sweet spot where they have had sufficient time to attain a rough grasp of the rules without yet having been consigned to a wheelchair through old age.

The actor Michael Keane – for his details click here, who plays real tennis at Lord’s, says with characteristic wit that:

real tennis originated in medieval times and we are fortunate to have some of the original players still playing the game with us at Lord’s.

That quip is a little unfair, but we do have at least two gentlemen playing at Lord’s, approaching the age of 90, who are determined to continue to turn out next year as the world’s first nonagenarian tennis doubles pair. I hope that, by then, I am good enough to be selected to play against them.

My progress

It’s hard to tell really. I started with a handicap of 77 and currently have a handicap of 67. I am told that I am making decent progress but won’t be satisfied unless or until I get that figure below 60. As long as I stay fit, I expect that my handicap will continue to fall for a couple of years at least while I come to terms with the many aspects of this fascinating, addictive game.

Of course, I play a lot of modern tennis with Janie and have played that game since I was a nipper. In time I think my modern tennis experience will be a help rather than a hindrance, but for the time being if anything it adds to my confusion. The shots that do best for me at modern tennis, such as slice and in particular top spin, are anathema to real tennis, which requires well-weighted chop or cut shots for maximum effect (i.e. to minimise bounce).

In a way, real tennis shots have more in common with cricket shots than modern tennis shots. Head still, foot to the ball, side on, firm wrists, timing the shot…all characteristics with which I have always struggled at cricket…so perhaps it is unsurprising that I am finding real tennis difficult too.

Added to which, my unusual habit of playing modern tennis off both arms has some interesting implications for the real tennis, where there are some real benefits to playing left-handed in many circumstances, not least when playing on the hazard side with all those pesky nooks and crannies to defend. But it does also mean that I shall probably need a fair bit more court time than most to get the requisite muscle memory in both arms and to learn when and how to switch hands in various circumstances.

When I started I played once a week, but I soon realised that I would need to play at least twice a week to make real progress. Initially I planned to take some more lessons after about 20 hours of court time, but I now realise that I need to find my own way around the court for 40-50 hours before I would be able to benefit properly from more formal instruction.

The good news is that more or less everyone at Lord’s seems to be so very welcoming and encouraging. In particular, some of the more senior players from whom I can learn a great deal about the game seem keen to play with me and also keen to advise – usually AFTER teaching me a lesson in competitive play on the court, of course.

Some More Links And Plans To Report On Further Progress

I have created an Ogblog category for Tennis, which covers real and modern tennis, playing and watching. A search on that will find all I have written so far on all forms of tennis.

I tag everything I write about real tennis – often a paragraph in a diary piece about my day, as “real tennis” so a click on that tag cloud phrase (or a search on the phrase “real tennis”) should uncover all references but exclude the modern tennis. Within those pieces are also links to other pieces where I have mentioned real tennis (e.g. those published on King Cricket).

Photo taken on May 4, 2005, by Peter Cahusac at the Falkland Palace Royal Tennis Club. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Photo taken on May 4, 2005, by Peter Cahusac at the Falkland Palace Royal Tennis Club. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Periodically, I shall report on my progress and occasionally report on my games, usually as part of another memorable day. For example, 19 July 2016, after playing a particularly sticky afternoon game, I cooled off by sitting in the shade catching up on my reading while the MCC played Nepal at cricket – see Cricinfo write up here. A useful and enjoyable afternoon. Were it not for this piece, I might have given that afternoon an Ogblog entry of its own.

 

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