Steve Harris: The new racquet sport coming to Dorset

PUBLISHED: 11:31 26 August 2016 | UPDATED: 11:31 26 August 2016

Steve in action on the real tennis court at Canford

Steve in action on the real tennis court at Canford


An exciting new racquet sport is coming to the county and fans of the game say it is very very addictive

“That’s a hazard chase. So there are two chases: a yard worse than the first gallery and hazard half a yard. Now we switch ends, the score is owe-fifteen thirty receiver and it’s my serve.”

The words coming out of my mouth make complete sense to me today, standing in what is effectively a large room in Canford School with a lop-sided racquet in my hand. But two years ago, and 40 miles down the coast, trying real tennis for the first time, phrases like these left me completely bamboozled.

I don’t know when I first heard about real tennis, the ancient forerunner to the Andy Murray version of the game. I do know a friend’s dad was the first to tell me about the court at Walditch, near Bridport. I can vividly remember my first session there. I tried it like one might try a parachute jump - to say that I had. But once I came to terms with the peculiar vernacular, I quickly became hooked. There was something about the unpredictable way the ball pinged off the walls of this misshapen indoor court that meant that, even when I lost a point, I was almost always smiling.

Now I play once a week. I’m not very good, and I often get thrashed by opponents 20 or even 30 years my senior. But I love it. There’s something quite refreshing about adopting a sport outside of the mainstream. It’s like learning to speak Esperanto; it’s no-one’s native language, so anyone who’s made the effort to pick up even a few words earns a degree of respect, because we can all remember what it was like at the beginning.

And that’s why I’m excited about another racquet sport coming to Dorset. It’s called Padel and, like real tennis, it needs to be played inside a purpose-built facility - which is why I haven’t tried it yet. In Padel’s case this is a part-perspex, part-wire-mesh box and currently the nearest Padel courts to Dorset are in Weybridge in Surrey. But not for long.

I recently met up with a very excited Rachel Lambon and Justin Sandever from the Christchurch Tennis Facility, who have planning permission to erect three Padel courts on their site next to Iford Bridge. I immediately identified that Rachel and Justin have the same zeal in their eyes as a converted real tennis evangelist. “It’s like a cross between tennis and squash,” Justin tells me. “It was developed in Mexico in the 1960s by a man who wanted a tennis court in his garden but didn’t have room for one. So instead he put walls around the small court that he built.”

From that simple solution a new racquet sport exploded into the mainstream, mainly in Spanish-speaking countries “There are two million Padel players in Mexico and three million in Spain where it’s second only to football in popularity. It’s very, very addictive,” confesses Justin.

It’ll be a while before the promised Padel courts finally arrive in the county. They’re hoping to start work in Christchurch before the end of next year. But I can say one thing with confidence. When those courts open, you should give it a go. Because, like I discovered with real tennis, you might find it’s the sport you’ve been waiting for.

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