Record Breaking Year for Newcastle University’s Real Tennis Team
Newcastle University’s real tennis team, which makes its home at the Jesmond Dene Real Tennis Club, has recorded an all-time peak in membership.
This marks a welcome change for the society, which had struggled to maintain its membership since its establishment in 2007.
Club captain Hugh Vermont says that most people coming to university have never heard of the so-called “sport of kings”, an antiquated tennis-squash hybrid that it’s claimed has its origins in the cloisters of French monasteries, and was once championed by Henry VIII. Indeed, there are only 25 real tennis courts in England, 45 in the world.
Two years ago, when Vermont took over as captain, the team was down to only four members, and the future did not look promising. Now, however, the club is seeing year on year expansion, with membership up to a record-breaking 27. More women are joining too, something Vermont says can often be difficult for sports teams.
The captain puts the improvements down to the society’s hard work at the annual ‘Fresher’s Fair’, and the free introductory sessions given throughout the term, saying the team is constantly on the recruitment drive. He adds that the sport’s relative obscurity can also work in its favour, “there are so few players, as soon as you set foot on court and hit the ball over the net, you’re in the top 9,000 in the world”.
The improving fortunes of the Newcastle University team are part of a global upswing for Real Tennis. In recent years, schools in England such as Radley and Wellington College have built courts, and tournaments including the British and French open, and several in the United States, are now streamed live.
The remaining problem for the Newcastle University real tennis team is the lack of opposition. Durham is the only other university in the North with a Real Tennis team, and this is only in its fledgling stages, so at present the Newcastle team is confined to mainly playing internal tournaments.
This weekend, however, brings the annual Inter-University tournament in Cambridge where the Newcastle team will pit their skills against students from Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, Exeter and more; given the increased size of the squad, Vermont says he has high hopes.