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A Manual for the Apprentice of the Game of Real Tennis

Nov 07, 2019

A Manual for the Apprentice of the Game of Real Tennis

Lessons from Pierre Etchebaster

By Édouard Kressmann • Preamble by Roland and Gil Kressmann

Translated by Alastair Robson • June 2019

Published by Ronaldson Publications • email:

Pps: 61 • Price: £7.50 + £2.50 p & p

This is a gem of a book. It is ostensibly aimed at beginners, but every player who has ever considered the complexities and collisions of possibilities of a game of real tennis will have at least as much to gain from it. Distilled from notes made by a French player, Édouard Kressman, after lessons given by the legendary Pierre Etchebaster at the New York club between 1955 and 1960, we are invited to consider the fundamentals of the game in terms that are almost shamanic in their simplicity. And this is the key - real tennis is a game, yes, but it is also a meditative exercise. And so we get Striking the Ball. Positioning. The Choice of the Appropriate Stroke. Attacking and Defending. And this reader's favourite: Think Before Acting.

There is much wisdom here. For example, I had never fully appreciated the simple truth that 'the higher up the ball hits the tambour, the more it will be deflected towards the winning gallery opening'. And I need always to be reminded that 'the player must never stop looking at the ball'. Then there are moments of mysterious observation - 'The boast stroke does not allow much forgiveness'. I think that means it's harder for the receiver to play, but, at least as I execute it, that's not always the case. The advice that I will take into my next game, though, and all games I hope hereafter, is this: 'Always hold the wrist beneath the head of the racquet'. The exception, in this case, is the half volley.

At 61 pages, this book doesn't outstay its very warm welcome, and is all the better for it. The introduction is by Kressman's sons - Roland and Gil - and we are indebted to the Dedanist Alastair Robson for his acute translation and consistently informative, wry, footnotes, as in his discussion of Etchebaster's 'upside down cut' of the 'American' or 'raillroad' serve, which leads him to quote Chris Ronaldson's warning to avoid contact between the head of the racquet and the shin of the left leg (if you're right-handed).

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in real tennis, a game described encouragingly by Kressmann as 'requiring intelligence and skill, and both certainly much more than athleticism'.

Martin Village

London • October 2019

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