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TENNIS: Radley get real with new court
Radley College, near Abingdon, is revelling in its sporting fame after unveiling the first new real tennis court to be built anywhere in the world this century.
The court, constructed at a cost of £570,000, gives Oxfordshire its second real tennis venue - the other being the University of Oxford Real Tennis Club, next to Merton College.
Tim Henman's brother is one of the 250 members there, and the former British No 1 himself is known to enjoy the game.
It sees Radley become the only school, and only the fourth location in the world, to have both a racquets court and a real tennis court on site.
The origins of real tennis date back 1,500 years and lawn tennis evolved from it.
The game first achieved popularity in England in the Middle Ages.
Labelled the 'Game of the Kings', it was played a lot in the 17th and 18th centuries, and has maintained a noble following ever since Henry VIII first eyed his opponent at Hampton Court in 1528.
After suffering a decline in the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, the 1990s saw the beginning of a revival in the game.
The new court at Radley is the third to be built in England in the last ten years, bringing the total number of courts in the UK to 29.
Unlike lawn tennis, this indoor version is quite complex.
Mike Dean, a geography teacher at Radley College and a real tennis player, calls the game 'chess on legs', as it combines subtlety and tactics, which is reflected in the design of the court.
Originally played against the walls of buildings and around monastery cloisters, the court is reminiscent of a courtyard or medieval street.
It has many interesting features, including sloping roofs (penthouses), openings (galleries) and a buttress, off which shots can be played.
In real tennis, players only serve from one end of the court and they have to defend the largest net-covered opening (the Dedan).
Each court is designed to the same basic principles, but each new one is designed with nuances and dimensions that are unique to each club, giving the home players a considerable advantage when facing visiting opponents.
Radley's real tennis professional is Chris Ronaldson, world champion from 1981 to 1987, who was the pro at Hampton Court for 28 years.
Dean, a former Oxfordshire lawn tennis player and county captain from the days when they were in Group 3 in County Week, is delighted to have Ronaldson, who was once pro at the Oxford University Real Tennis Club, as his standard-bearer.
Working alongside Ronaldson is Paul Knox, who hopes to take up an appointment as assistant coach from September.
The new real tennis court forms part of a refurbished and impressive sports centre at Radley, which is available to the public, and also includes a 25m swimming pool, with 3.5m-deep diving pool, main sports hall and squash courts.
Abingdon School, St Edward's, Oxford, and any other school in Oxfordshire who would like to try it out, are being invited to give the new real tennis court a go.
Radley College themselves have been playing the sport for years, but they have always had to travel to Oxford to use the Merton College court.
"Next year, everyone at Radley College will have a taste of it, and I expect we'll have about 60 taking it up seriously," says Ronaldson.
The 13-sided court provides all sorts of angles.
The ball, which bounces much less than a tennis ball, can fly off in unexpected directions, which is why experience is key, and explains why the world champions are aged 40 (men) and 35 (women) respectively.