Real Tennis is the king of all racquet sports; a game where subtlety and thought are more prized than brute strength and power. It is played in an asymmetrical court which contains many unusual features, sloping roofs, openings (galleries) in the walls and a main wall which has a kink in it (tambour) so the ball on hitting the sloping face moves across the court instead of continuing down the line of the main wall. It has the classic elements of warfare where a failed attack is punished by a counter-attack. The game is played with racquets made of wood, of reasonable dimensions (not those over-sized snow shoes favoured by lawn tennis players!), and with hand-made balls re-covered every week with new cloth.
The ball can be given spin either by the player or by contact with the wall, and the action of this spin can be even more deadly than Shane Warne; reading the spin is an important part of the game; initially one is totally bewildered by the spin but soon one begins to judge where the ball will move after contact. Service is from one end of the court and there are about a dozen different types of serve - and each has a few variations.... The scoring is intricate but not complicated. Games and sets are scored as in lawn tennis (lawn tennis, a comparative newcomer, took its scoring system from real tennis).
The unusual feature of real tennis is the chase. A chase is a point held in abeyance and occurs when a ball bounces twice without being struck or enters some of the galleries (but there are three openings wherein the entry of the ball wins the stroke, not a chase). The chase is recorded, e.g. chase better than four means that the second bounce of the ball was nearer than four yards from the back wall. However no stroke is scored. There are lines on the floor to help measure the chase. If one chase is laid and the score is within one point of game or if two chases have been laid, the players change ends (and service) and the other player has to ensure that the second bounce of his or her return is nearer the back wall than the chase(s) marked. The opponent may leave any ball that seems to fall further from the back wall than the chase marked and so win the point. And there are some wonderfully esoteric chases, e.g. more than a yard worse than or hazard one and two, which exist just to keep one's brain ticking over.
Some hand-eye coordination and physical mobility is essential but it does not require the sort of fitness and agility demanded by squash in order to enjoy the game. The game can be enjoyed at many skill levels and a system of handicapping has been devised in order to make games competitive between players of different ability. Age is no barrier. Many octogenarians play the game, and to a good standard.
The origins of the game are debated; but it has been played for many centuries. Over that period many courts have fallen into disuse. However during the revival of the game over the last couple of decades new ones are being built and others brought back into commission. There are about 25 courts in general use throughout the UK, many situated in attractive locations of old country houses and schools.