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Anyone for tennis? – part two

LanguedocLiving, Aug 21

Le Jeu des Rois et le Roi des Jeux, Real Tennis/Jeu de Paume – Part 2

By Katrina Allen. Katrina is a former doubles world champion and world number one singles player at Real Tennis. She won the British, French, Australian and U.S. Open tournaments in singles and doubles.

If you missed part 1, where Katrina talked about the predecessor of today’s tennis, invented in Northern Picardie by French monks in around the 12th – read it here.

So, we’ve had a look at the history of real tennis – now it’s time to learn how to play.

A video well worth watching is on the video link in this article, or you can see a far more sedate club game in Bordeaux on Youtube.

One of the beauties of the game is the fact that every court is slightly different in its dimensions and angles and its floor and wall speeds. The courts vary hugely in size. The one at Hampton Court Palace, for example, is several feet longer and wider than the Oxford one and feels simply enormous in comparison.

They each have their individual characters, history and eccentricities. Being hand-made, even the balls differ in speed and bounce.

Equally, there are dozens of different serves each with individual names, trajectories and spins. The “railroad” is straight, fast and hard, the “boomerang” doubles back on itself, the “underarm twist” imparts a fierce sideways spin, the “bobble” plops lazily along the roof. Some, like the “drag”, cling to the side wall and others leap up or away from you.

Have a look at the aerial view illustration of the court alongside this explanation, which will make it easier to understand. A larger image is on my website (details at the end of this article).

The net divides a tennis court into two sections, the service end and the hazard end. A valid serve bounces along the roof and lands in the box marked in yellow.

Players at the hazard end are at a disadvantage. Not only are they always receiving the serve, they also need to be ready for a ball that deflects sharply off the angled “tambour” (a large buttress) and to prevent their opponent from hitting either of the two targets that win the point, the “grille” and the “winning gallery” (marked in green). About the only consolation for the receiver is that he can win a point by hitting the ball into the spectators’ viewing area, a large netting at the service end called the “dedans” (also marked in green).

So, how does one gain the service end?

Now, this is where it gets interesting!

The receiver needs to “lay a chase”.

The “chase” is something players relish and cherish – it really makes the game what it is but it can be rather confusing to explain.

A chase is usually created when the ball bounces twice on the floor at the service end.

“Chase one yard” means that the second bounce lands on the line that is one yard from the back wall (see illustration). When a chase occurs, the rally stops but no point is scored. However, it allows the receiver to change ends and occupy the more advantageous service end. After changing ends, this chase is “played off”: the now receiving player must hit the ball so its second bounce is closer to the back wall than the one yard line. If they succeed they win the point: if not, they lose it.

Chases on French courts are marked in feet rather than yards but it’s exactly the same principle.

Let’s take bowls or petanque as an analogy. The first player throws their ball, trying to get it as close to the small ball as possible. The aim of the second player is simply to get their ball closer to the target to win. Imagine that small ball is the back wall!

This is the basic explanation of the chase and lines on the court – there are more complex chases and rules but this only makes the game more fascinating.

A good chase requires cut and finesse. One might belt the ball into a winning opening and then follow it up with a gently feathered stroke into a corner. Forget football. This is “the beautiful game”!

On top of that, just imagine playing inside the Palace of Fontainebleau, at the exclusive Queen’s Club in London, the Oxford University Court built in the 18th century, Lords Cricket Club or at Hampton Court Palace where Henry VIII used to play. Or maybe Petworth House, where you might combine a game with a tour of the Turner collection.

So, where can you have a go? The courts are listed under the clubs section on:

Just contact the relevant professional listed on the Clubs section. Most will be happy to give non-members an initiation.

For the French Association go to:

For some reason the court at Bayonne isn’t listed so if you want to play there, contact Paul Mirat on:

The courts in Bayonne and La Bastide Clairence are much smaller than the average and may miss some features found in others (e.g. no tambour/back “penthouse” roof) but the principle of the game is just the same.

I hope this has inspired you to try out this wonderful sport. I promise you it becomes much easier to understand when you are actually on the court where you will no doubt be wanting to try out those “bobble” and “drag” serves.

You will find more court illustrations and a larger look at the aerial view on my website page: 



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