Real Tennis Revealed

Pinball machines, pre-match rituals and purple racquets… Mrs Doble tells all

This week I was lucky enough to interview Mrs Doble, our very own professional Real Tennis star. Real Tennis is the original racquet sport from which the more modern game of lawn tennis is descended (for those that have never played it – it could be described as a cross between squash and indoor tennis).

There are only 48 active Real Tennis courts in the world, with the Royal Tennis Court at Hampton Court Palace being the oldest surviving Real Tennis court in England. Having built the court himself, it was here that Henry VIII gave Real Tennis its British debut. 500 years on, there is still a passionate Real Tennis community. Read on for Mrs Doble’s unique perspective on this fascinating sport…

What inspired you to get involved in Real Tennis? Do you wish you had started earlier?

I was at the point of retiring from competitive badminton and looking for a new casual hobby and a friend of my mum’s suggested Real Tennis. I later realised that it can be just as competitive! I would have loved to have started earlier. In fact, at university, I lived 200m from a court for 3 years but wasn’t aware of it.

Which is your most memorable match?

Probably winning the French Open Doubles final in 2018. My partner is professional though, so she got all the prize money, while I got a magnum of champagne.

Do you prefer doubles or singles? Who is your favourite doubles partner?

They are very different games. In doubles, partners can play specific roles, and depending on who I play with, I get the opportunity to play both which is fun. There is also more volleying and target hitting which is entertaining and makes you feel like you’re inside a giant pinball machine. I do tend to play singles more frequently though.

How would you describe the Real Tennis community?

Unfortunately, still rather male-dominated. There are initiatives to encourage more young women to start playing, but these will take time.

Do you have any pre-match rituals? Do you have any special/lucky items?

So many. Starting with my bespoke purple racquet, but also 2 purple wristbands. I then have flasks of both water and winter spiced Rooibos tea. In every other context, I put socks on first and then shoes, but before I play it’s left sock, left shoe, right sock, right shoe.

How hard do you find it to explain Real Tennis to other people?

It’s easier than it used to be as there are now many matches recorded and available to view on YouTube. But I usually stick to the basic similarities to and differences from lawn tennis – court, racquets, balls.

How long did it take you to learn the rules/scoring? Is it easy to still get confused?

It takes several years to become totally comfortable with all the rules. And because each court is slightly different, each has individual quirks you need to be aware of. Also, handicaps can be set on matches, which means that the scoring is altered, for example each game could start love-15 if one player is worse. The bigger the discrepancy, the more complicated the alterations, including which parts of the court you can and can’t hit to.

If Real Tennis was being considered for an Olympic sport, would you support its inclusion?

Actually no. It’s only played in 4 countries of the world (UK, US, Australia, France) and therefore it would be a very restrictive event. We already have many tournaments to play in, including 4 grand slams a year, and because matches can have handicaps set based on players’ ability, most tournaments are gender-neutral, so I usually compete against men.

Why would you encourage other people to play Real Tennis? What are your best tips for Real Tennis beginners?

It’s definitely special. Many of the courts are within stately homes or palaces so you get to spend time exploring those. The game has not, in essence, changed much since it was played in the Tudor court, so I feel like I’m both participating in a piece of history as well as a sport. The most important tip I would offer would be to get on a court and see what you think.

Describe the typical Real Tennis player:

No such thing. I have played against both the Earl of Buckinghamshire and Prince Edward, but most players are “normal” people!

If you could tweak anything about the game, what would you change (if anything)?

I’d like to play more; courts are very busy, so it’s not always easy to find an available game. I guess that means I’d like more courts to be built.

Lauren VII