Tennis

HRH Real Tennis Tour 2018 Australia

24 May 2018


HRH Real Tennis Tour 2018 Australia
HRH Real Tennis Tour 2018 Australia

Royal Melbourne Tennis Club

It was twelve years ago that I was last in Melbourne for the Commonwealth Games and the last time I played at RMTC. The real pleasure of being back there again and catching up with so many familiar faces was slightly tempered by the somewhat daunting thought that this would be the first of five courts I would be playing in just three days. To make matters worse, I had only arrived in Australia the day before. The two thoughts uppermost in my mind were: did I really agree to do this and would I survive?!

Melbourne has two courts referred to as North and South although there seemed to be some disagreement as to exactly where North is in relation to the Club! No doubt it helped being a Saturday, but there was quite a crowd: a number of juniors as well as some novices from a local school, their parents, various members and then a couple of TV news crews, photographers and journalists. All in all it was quite an atmosphere for the three juniors who played in the first set, in fact it was just as nerve-wracking for some of the other club members not used to having an audience.

Both courts are a distinctive green. The natural lighting is good, helped on this particular day by a clear blue autumnal sky. The floor is pretty fast and quite bouncy, the walls are true so the ball can sit up. The main wall must be a bit rougher as a cross-court shot which bounces on the floor tends to stick close rather than coming out, and if it then hits the back wall tends to go straight down the court rather than coming out at an angle. The roof is high and clear of obstacles so good for lobbing. The Penthouse seems quite wide and relatively flat which doesn’t favour a railroad serve.

In the morning we played on the North Court and had three pretty competitive sets so a good three hours of tennis. Julian Snow marked the first, Scott Girven the second and Kate Leeming the third. We then had a break for lunch which we were able to enjoy outside before embarking on the next three sets on the South Court. The differences between the two courts are relatively subtle, but the floor and walls do appear to behave slightly differently, the back walls in particular don’t seem quite so lively and the main wall not as rough. The tambours on both courts are fairly similar and square so the ball tends to come straight across court. The games in the afternoon were equally competitive meaning that we again played nearly three full hours. This time our markers were: Kate Leeming, Frank Filipelli and Jonathan Howell. All in all I think we managed to clock up about 70 games.

Massive thanks to everyone who came along and supported the day, there was a lovely, buzzy atmosphere throughout. There was just one, rather unique moment in the day when I was at the Service end and my partner, on the Galleries side of the court, followed the ball off the Dedans Penthouse, but when I say “followed” he stepped around the inside the ball in an attempt to put it on his forehand, so that he ended up facing across the court i.e. at me! My entire Tennis life flashed before my eyes as I waited, rooted to the spot, for the execution of what my partner still believed was to be the perfect winning forehand force . . . just my luck to be partnered by the most radical republican in Australia, but thankfully not the most accurate . . . the ball missed me much to my relief and I think of an incredulous Dedans. It’s definitely the closest I ever want to get to being another infamous footnote of the Royal Game!

Ballarat

Day two took us North West of Melbourne and to the town of Ballarat. This is not an especially old court and club which I last played in 1994. There was a very lively and noisy crowd here, the level of chit-chat was so great that the servers had to relay to the receivers the score and chases because it was simply impossible to hear at the Hazard End. Perhaps I should mention here that the custom in Australia is for the marker to sit in the Dedans.

The colour scheme is a dark ochre, noticeably different to Melbourne, however the lighting is good with plenty of natural light from a pitched roof with metal rod beams. The penthouse is relatively flat and broad so favouring a bobble or underarm twist serve. The floor appears dull or not very bouncy however the walls are true so the ball doesn’t come out far. The tambour is quite oblique so there is quite a variation between balls played down the main wall and those across court.

Another three competitive sets, the first with the juniors going to 5 games all. There was a marked change of pace in the second set and the third . . . well I suppose I should have been suspicious when the marker of the first two sets and club professional Andrew Fowler paired up with our opponent. He then proceeded to hit the ball really quite hard at my partner who happened to be a lady. To confuse matters, my partner was going to swap at the half-way point which we managed to engineer at 4 games all. My new partner, also a lady, was also on the receiving end of what might be regarded as some forceful shots. It wasn’t ‘til after the game I discovered that my second partner was a bit of a ringer having been a doubles champion!

The spectators stuck with it for the three hours, rarely drawing breath, and the seemed to have enjoyed it all when I met them afterwards. Huge thanks to all for being there and I hope the legacy of initiating a new relationship with a couple of local schools as well as potentially the local university will bear fruit.

Romsey

Day three started at a relatively new court built in the 1990s in an area to the north of Melbourne. It had been used as an art gallery for the past couple of years, but thankfully had been converted back into a Royal Tennis court just in time. As such it is unique: it has a glass wall behind the Receivers and high level viewing galleries on each side. As neither of these are netted it does present an additional hazard for both players and spectators and, unusually, is one of the few courts where ball-boys and girls can be useful!

The court itself is several feet longer than most which also requires a little adjustment as does the walls since they’re not all made of the same material. The glass wall does behave differently as it tends to absorb energy so the ball drops quite quickly. The colour is predominantly white and there is plenty of natural light, however there are rows of strip lights which can get in the way of a lob.

Once again, the opportunity was used to encourage local schools and colleges to come and try the game which will hopefully mean the court will get more use in the future. All the other players had come up from the Royal Melbourne Tennis Club eager for the opportunity to play on such a special court and to celebrate the fact that it was back in use. The owner, Gordon, was my partner for the third set during which we probably had the longest game of the three days, at least 20 minutes, it was only afterwards I discovered that it was the first time he had been back on court after major surgery!

Grateful thanks must go to Gordon and Judy Cope-Williams for re-opening the court and being such delightful hosts. Also to John Mackinnon and Jonathan Howell for marking, although Jonners probably doesn’t thank me for forcing him to mark the very long game!

Hobart

The fifth and final court is also the oldest in Australia dating from 1875?? Thanks to some very kind and generous friends of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award I managed to get from the State of Victoria to Tasmania in time to play my last three sets on the afternoon of day three.

The most quirky feature of the Hobart court is its penthouse which is definitely showing the signs of age with a gentle undulation all the way around. While it looks a little off-putting, it actually doesn’t seem to affect the way it plays. The colour scheme is a very smart black and red, the floor is pretty quick and the walls are lively. By that I mean that ball can sit up quite high, it comes off quite enthusiastically and can do some surprising things in the corners. The tambour has a twist which means that the angle differs at the top and bottom. To be honest, I didn’t experience this particularly, but it does vary considerably between a shot along the main wall and a cross-court shot. What I did find a little distracting are the lights which, although they produce a very good and even light on the floor, can make you lose a high lob.

Once again, there was a large and enthusiastic crowd, which was a little nerve-wracking for some. My first partner, a junior, settled remarkably well and played brilliantly. My second partner found it much more difficult to settle and never really got into his game. The third and final set I will remember for a long time as my playing companions were all long-standing members, but as Graeme Bradfield, our gallant marker, informed me during the warm-up my partner was in excess of 90 years old and only had one eye while one of my opponents was suffering from Parkinsons. My tennis challenge had just taken on a whole new meaning!

Amazingly, we all survived and rather more remarkably I had not just played nearly 15 hours of tennis over 3 days, but also managed to play 182 games. My grateful thanks goes to the Club and members for such a great climax to my Australian odyssey. Although still standing, I was in rather a desperate need of a physio, however my next stop was the Gold Coast and the Commonwealth Games so I was reasonably hopeful I might find someone willing to help me!


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