The kings of sport play the sport of kings at the spiritual home of Real Tennis
For 400 years the Royal Tennis Court at Hampton Court Palace has witnessed generation after generation of royal intrigue and sporting drama, with Charles II, William III and even Prince Albert all mastering the art of Real Tennis within its walls. For five days in July the sport returns to its spiritual home, as Hampton Court plays host to the inaugural Real Tennis Champions Trophy. Promising the world’s greatest players competing on the world’s most historic court - a designated National Monument – the publicly ticketed tournament will see professional competitors from around the world come together to battle it out to be crowned the victor.
This new annual event celebrates the skill and dedication of this ancient sport, and fuses an innovative playing format with this pursuit once beloved of kings. Like the legendary tournaments held by Henry VIII at the palace, the Real Tennis Champions Trophy will bring together the sport’s finest players under one royal roof. With the tournament restricted to just the world’s top 10 players, real drama is definitely included in the ticket price!
The Royal Tennis Court is one of fewer than fifty real tennis courts in the world still in use, and one of the few courts in the world where the public can watch this intriguing sport. The ancestor of modern tennis – from which lawn tennis was derived in about 1874 – Real Tennis is similarly played on a court divided with a net into two ends. Unlike its more common derivative, however, the sport is played out in a specially created indoor court, with lines on the floor demarcating the service end and the hazard end. The handmade balls are solid – like a cricket ball – and the rackets are still handcrafted in the traditional way with a wooden frame. Play is continuous – no sitting down for Real Tennis players! – and points are awarded for ‘hazards’ hit, with various ‘galleries’ or window-like openings below the roof acting as goals to be aimed for.
The sport’s association with Hampton Court Palace goes back to 1526, when Cardinal Wolsey – the palace’s original inhabitant – built an open air court for the amusement of his guests. It was here that Henry VIII, one of the game’s most famous players, competed against senior courtiers under the bewitching gaze of Anne Boleyn. In fact Henry loved the game so much that he built another magnificent court closer to his apartments. The present indoor court was built by Charles I in 1625, maintaining one of Wolsey’s original walls, with canvas curtains to keep out the rain and nets stretched across the unglazed window openings to keep the balls in. It wasn’t until 1700 that nets were installed in the galleries to protect the spectators! In 1818 a committee of members was formed to run the internal affairs of the court, with this new ‘club’ becoming known as the Royal Tennis Court. With a renewed interest in the sport during the reign of Queen Victoria, both her husband Prince Albert and a young Edward VII were among the players who flocked to the court during the 19th century. More recently, the club has welcomed HM the Queen as its patron, and counts HRH The Earl of Wessex among its members.
Kicking off on 11 July with the qualifying rounds, the tournament will reach its climax on 16July as the final players battle it out on the Royal Tennis Court to lift the 2017 Real Tennis Champions Trophy. Tickets begin at £25 standing / £35 seated for the opening games, and also include admission to the many treasures of Hampton Court Palace.
For info and tickets visit: www.hrp.org.uk/realtennis