To the uninitiated, Real Tennis appears to be a very complicated game, but in reality – apart from the system of Chases – it is not. Lawn Tennis is derived from it and the two games have much in common. Both are played over a net, and you can play singles or doubles. Both require the ball to be returned either on the volley or after it has bounced once, although in Real Tennis it may rebound off the walls and the Penthouse roofs before striking the ground. Both games are scored by points of 15, 30, 40, Deuce and Advantage.
However, Real Tennis has some unique features:
Real Tennis is played in an enclosed court with a net dividing the court into two ends. Each court has its own characteristics, yet while their dimensions vary, all share a number of common features. Around three sides of the court runs a lean-to with a sloping roof called the Penthouse; along the Service Wall this has openings called Galleries. There are other openings elsewhere in the end walls, the Dedans and the Grille, both of which are important targets.
A buttress, the Tambour, juts out from one of the long walls, and this provides another twist to the game because of the way the ball bounces off it. The floor is marked with Chase lines, which are used for scoring. Service is always delivered from the Service end, and the ball must bounce at least once on the Penthouse on the Hazard side and must land on the floor for the first time within the area bounded by the service line and the fault line.
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Points are won when errors are made by the opposition (eg hitting the ball into the net or out of court) or when a player strikes the ball into one of the Winning Openings – the Dedans, the Grille or the Winning Gallery. In addition, the player at the Service end can score an outright winner by making the ball bounce twice at the Hazard end, provided the second bounce is beyond the Service Line which is level with the Winning Gallery.
Tactics in Real Tennis often revolve around gaining service as soon as possible and then retaining it for as long as possible. The server has the advantage of aiming shots at the Tambour, off which the ball comes at an awkward angle, not easily anticipated. The only way a player at the Hazard end can gain service is by laying a Chase. Understanding the idea of a Chase is the key to understanding Real Tennis. Chases make Real Tennis unlike any other racquet game. To find out more you’ll have to come to the club and see for yourself!
Originally the game was played with the bare hand, but later it developed into a racquet game. Modern racquets are wooden framed, and individually strung by the club professional to suit a player’s needs. The most noticeable aspect of the racquets is their assymetric appearance – reflecting the shape of the hand, and still retained as the best shape for many of the strokes involved in the game
The ball is slightly smaller than a lawn tennis ball, but heavier and harder. Each is individually hand made, with a cork or felt core, bound in cloth, secured by cord and covered with hand stitched felt. This method has been used throughout history.