Have you ever heard of the sport Real Tennis?

The British Real Tennis Open this November has brought this relatively unheard of and mysterious sport into the limelight. A fascinating tournament culminated in a showdown in the men’s singles between the world number 1 and 2 clash. Unfortunately real tennis and 13 time world champion Rob Fahey lost out to the world number 1. Nevertheless, as this intriguing sport is relatively unheard of, here is a summary of the sport’s history and potential future.

Real Tennis – one of several games sometimes called "the sport of kings" – is the original racquet sport from which the modern game of tennis (originally called "lawn tennis") is derived. It is also known as court tennis in the United States, formerly Royal Tennis in England and Australia and Courte-Paume in France. Royal interest in England began with Henry V but it was Henry VIII  who made the biggest impact as a young monarch, playing the game Hampton Court Palace on a court he had built in 1530. Allegedly, his second wife Anne Boleyn was watching a game of real tennis when she was arrested and it is believed that Henry was playing tennis when news was brought to him of her execution, indicating its presence throughout some of history’s most fascinating time periods. Due to its early beginnings, Real Tennis has the longest running world championship event of any sport, dating back to 1760.

Nevertheless, very few people have heard of the sport let alone play it which is why there has been a recent emphasis on encouraging people to start playing, especially younger people as there are few players in the U18 age groups. By living in London, you are in a uniquely advantageous position given the number of courts available at your disposal; of the 48 courts in the world, 11 are situated in South East England throughout London (Middlesex University, Lord’s MCC, Queen’s Club, Hampton Court) and the surrounding counties of Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire. Of these 11, Hampton Court is 400 years old making it the oldest surviving real tennis court in England, built in the 1620s on the site of an even older (1528) court.


Tom Stephens