HRH Real Tennis Tour 2018 France

04 Oct 2018

HRH Real Tennis Tour 2018 France
HRH Real Tennis Tour 2018 France
HRH Real Tennis Tour 2018 France

Court 43 – Fontainebleau

Built in 1601, this is the largest Tennis court, a full yard longer at both ends. It is a truly magnificent space with large windows down both sides a high, flat wooden ceiling with a very large coat of arms painted in the middle. It has viewing galleries both sides as well as at the ends so can accommodate a large crowd, although thankfully not on this day. The last time I was here was 28 years ago about the time the court was re-opened. Since then it has undergone a fairly major refurbishment, so it looks and plays much better.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this court is how lively it is, both off the floor and the walls; I mean the ball literally flies off the back wall in an almost alarming way. The Penthouses are narrow and steep which can also kick the ball off, however they can also create quite a lot of backspin and serving is a bit nerve-wracking to begin with as the target appears to be awfully small. The Tambour is relatively narrow and obtuse. However, that is not to say that the court doesn’t take spin, it does, but it requires a lot to have any effect.

Eric Delloye did the honours, not just a masterclass with some novices, but also marking all three sets. The club has a very active junior section and is doing well at attracting young players as I experienced in my first set. We got the pairing slightly wrong in the second set and changed it for the last fifteen minutes and had a more even final three games. They then brought out some of their ‘big guns’ (the local description, not mine!) and the pace heated up considerably, which I think the large and very supportive crowd enjoyed.

We then all retired to the Gallerie des Cerfs in the Chateau for lunch. Being a royal chateau it is quite grand, but in a more romantic way and has echoes of its former life as a hunting lodge, an escape from the formality of the royal court, a place to relax. For the really observant, the wall outside the Tennis court has a Tambour and is the only clue to the former, open air court which stood there. It was a pleasure to be able to play this court again and I am very grateful to everyone who came and supported the day, especially for making me feel so very welcome.

Court 44 – Paris

From the outside this court is invisible. The street entrance is just another door, the only indication that there is anything unusual behind it being a fairly non-descript brass plaque. However what awaits you when you get to the top floor is really quite amazing. The dimensions of this 1908 court maybe more traditional, but the height is truly impressive with a fantastic domed ceiling culminating in an extensive glazed roof of a conservatory design. As if this didn’t let in enough light there are grand windows down each side with artificial lighting between each so largely unobtrusive.

The colour scheme is a pretty traditional black with white lines, red out of court line and white upper surfaces. The floor is quite a bright red, painted and sticky; even and true although it does react to spin, especially any sidespin, as I discovered to my cost. The Tambour is relatively obtuse, although frankly it seemed to come off at all angles and it was pure luck if you were standing in the right place! The Penthouses are relatively narrow and steep and the walls also react to spin so service is a big advantage on this court. I found it difficult to get the ball to cut, but that’s a perennial problem with my game, however a low forced ball does tend to stay low off the end walls.

Rod McNaughton did the honours marking all three sets and running the masterclass for some of the juniors and some novices who just happened to be doing their DofE at two local international schools – one French and one British. There are just 5 venues running the DofE across the whole of France which has more to do with the French education system that doesn’t really embrace the notion of non-formal education. I can’t claim that this Odyssey will change very much, but we may have started a conversation with a couple more schools.

I am most grateful to the club for hosting the morning and the Comité Français for all their help with the organisation. While the first pairing wasn’t all that equal the next two sets were closely fought and there was definitely some very hard hitting at times which, according to some of the spectators (who were mostly new to the game), they found quite entertaining! And with that the international element of my Odyssey came to an end, Paris being the last overseas court.

Postscript: it would be remiss of me not to mention that I went and had a look at the Versailles court. If I understood it correctly this is not the royal court that was used by the assembly, but a private court that was subsequently acquired by the Emperor Louis Philippe primarily as an art studio for some monumental works he commissioned for the Palace when he converted parts of it into a public gallery. The court is now a museum and as such they have widened the Galleries and Dedans as well as adding a gallery in the Back Wall to allow more people to view the court and exhibits. Like Fontainebleau, it has a flat wooden ceiling and large windows running down both sides. It has one unique touch, there is a wooden trough running down the back of the Galleries which is sloping so that any ball that enters a Gallery runs down to the Marker’s box. This doesn’t really count as one of my courts because there are too many obstacles (in other words statues!), the floor is covered in coconut matting and it’s not really possible to string up a net, but I couldn’t resist the temptation of serving just one ball . . . perhaps the first one in 150 years!

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