Tucked in the centre of Hobart is a club that houses an ancient sport, fast paced and intricate, the great-grandfather of today’s lawn tennis. The sport is ‘real tennis’, sometimes called royal tennis or court tennis, and is an exciting game to play and watch. The club was built in 1875 by Englishman Samuel Smith-Travers in his backyard in Davey Street, where the court not only still exists, but is also used upwards of 80 hours per week.
The game became prominent in the 16th century when young monarch Henry V11 was an enthusiastic player. It is even believed that his second wife, Anne Boleyn, was watching the sport when she was arrested. Real tennis continued to gain popularity, spreading throughout Europe, Australia, and North America.
With only around 45 courts in the world and just five clubs, the Hobart Real Tennis Club is a real treasure. Its members take full advantage of the specialised court with games played daily from 7 in the morning until 10 at night.
The court itself is a specialised design, with a length of one and a half times the length of a regular tennis court, and the same width as a doubles court. There are seven-foot-high walls surrounding the court, with three sloping roofs. There is a buttress on one wall called the tamboure, on which shots can be played. There are also parts of the court called the grille, dedans, and the winning gallery.
Real tennis equipment is also unique, with pear shaped, tightly strung wooden racquets used to hit the ball. The ball itself is very different as well. It weighs just 77 grams and is made of cork wrapped tightly in cloth material. They cannot be bought professionally, and are handmade.
The game’s rules are similar to the commonly known game of lawn tennis, with some added complexities. While scoring is basically the same, there are features such as the ‘chase’ that have a huge bearing on the game.
Read more about Real Tennis in Hobart in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Tasmanian Life Magazine
Words: Morgan Barnsley
Images: Jack Robert- Tissot