Friday, December 4, 2009

"The First Beautiful Game"

The indoor sport of Real Tennis, also called court tennis, is often considered the forerunner to the sport we consider today's modern game of tennis. 

Two hundred years before soccer was dubbed "the beautiful game", real tennis or court tennis was called "the first beautiful game." It went by different names in different countries --- "royal tennis" in Australia; "jeu de paume" in France; and "court tennis" in the United States.

The scoring rules are very similar to modern tennis, with matches usually won at best of three sets. The ball is an old-style, dark cork-ball, but slightly heavier and less bouncier than a standard tennis ball. It's color was later changed to yellow for better optics. The rackets are made of wood, tightly strung and slightly bent, to make it easier to hit indoor corners and "slice" the ball.

There are about 42 courts worldwide that offer real tennis play today. The oldest real tennis court in the world opened in 1539 and is located in England - Falkland Palace (Fife) and still operational. One of the oldest real tennis courts in the United States opened in 1899 in Pennsylvania at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia.

Shakespeare first mentioned real tennis in his writings in Henry V, Act I, Scene II. King Henry responds to a gift of real tennis balls from the French Prince that he will use them to play a game that defeats France's royalty.

Later, the poet William Lathum compared life to a tennis court in Sick Verse, the Penquin Book:

The world I sample to a Tennis-court,
Where fate and fortune daily meet to play,
. . . 
All manner chance are Rackets, wherewithall
They bandie men, from wall to wall;
Some over Lyne, to honour and great place,
Some under Lyne, to infame and disgrace;

To read more about the origins and stories of real tennis, please refer to: The First Beautiful Game: Stories of Obsession in Real Tennis, Roman Krznaric, Oxford: Ronaldson Pub. (2006).
Meantime, let's get back to that court next chance we get, and practice that "First Beautiful Game"!

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