Harbinger of summer, satisfier of the urge to smack something around, sport of the fleet of foot.
Singles, doubles, or just lobbing balls off the door to the garage – the satisfaction of well-placed shots are the sporting equivalent of bubbles rising in a fizzy drink; there are many of them in the glass, with each cause for a mini-celebration.
Lawn tennis (as most of us play now, regardless of grass/clay/other type of court) is the familiar game we recognize as contemporary tennis. There are tennis-like offshoots: squash, paddle tennis, handball (for the hardcore among you) and then there’s the standard for the game, Real Tennis.
It’s actually called that – ‘Real Tennis’ – and it is a fast-moving, strategic game played with a solid ball and a racquet with a smaller face than is used in Lawn Tennis.
Prior to the sixteenth century, the ball was filled with clay and/or sand.
If you’re thinking, “Gee, that sounds dangerous!” that’s because IT WAS.
A well-placed shot could take out an opponent. (!!!)
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the core of the ball was replaced with animal hair and sometimes human hair, making it lighter, bouncier – and less lethal.
With a slightly offset face, a Real Tennis racquet looks oddly inadequate to the task, but that small racquet face can take the impact of the heavier tennis ball.
To grip it, the hand is placed near the halfway point of the neck, in keeping with the tight, fast movement of the game.
Real Tennis balls can be played off any wall, and even the roof. The strategy of the game was more involved than that in Lawn Tennis; the terminology, the rules, the layout of the playing area are described quite well on this website:
Betting was common among spectators of the tennis games played in the sixteenth century; women didn’t play but could watch (and make wagers!)and following the game meant knowing its many rules.
While Lawn Tennis played today has strategy and rules, a Real Tennis game made Lawn Tennis look like McDonalds food next to a five-course gourmet dinner.
Do we in the twenty-first century do ourselves a disservice by allowing rules and standards to slip away?
No worries, though, there is a strong community of Real Tennis players who take to the courts at Hampton Court Palace and other Real Tennis courts (27 in all) in clubs across England.
In the United States there are ten Real Tennis court(s), mostly along the East Coast.
Sadly, Chicago is as far west as the Real Tennis game is played here in the States. (BOO.)
Real Tennis has a poignant moment that, in retrospect, feels a bit like a knife to the guts.
On May 2, 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn was called away from a tennis game for which she’d wagered money.
Ordered to appear in front of the King’s Council, she joked that she’d not collected her winnings yet and there was money owed her.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter.
She was arrested later that day and taken to the Tower of London.
Seventeen days later, the roar of cannon fire announced her death by beheading.
Sixteen miles away, at Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII received the news of her death.
It is reported that when he received that message, he was in the middle of a game of Real Tennis.