Oxford University Tennis Club

about real tennis - rules of real tennis - tennis and the chase - Handicaps

Tennis and the Chase

{taken from the book "Hazard Chase" by Jeremy Potter 1964}

Tennis is the game from which lawn tennis was devised. Often called real tennis, royal tennis or (in America) court tennis, it is played in an indoor court. There is a net across the centre of the court, and as in lawn tennis the ball is hit backwards and forwards across it with a racquet, either full toss or first bounce. The method of scoring is like the one used in lawn tennis.

The walls of the court, unlike those of a squash or rackets court, are not plain, flat surfaces. Three of them are broken by sloping penthouses just above head high (the roofs as well as the walls above and below are in play), and all four walls contain hazards. The hazards are: 1 the galleries (openings with netting at the back to stop the ball and protect spectators): these are below the penthouse roofs and consist of the side galleries along one side and the dedans at one end; 2 the grille (a square opening with a wooden back); and 3 the tambour (a projection of the main wall which causes the ball to fly off at an angle).

Service is always from the same end of the court and does not alternate with each game, a change of service being brought about only by the laying of a chase. This is done by the striker returning the ball over the net in such a way that his opponent misses it: a chase is then laid at the point where the ball hits the floor on its second bounce.

The floor of the court at the service end is marked in yards from the back wall, and if the second bounce falls on the four-yard line "chase four" is called by the marker. The point is not won by the striker, but held in abeyance until either of the players reaches forty or until two chases have been made. They then change ends, and the player who was serving before and is now receiving service has to return the ball so that the second bounce falls less than four yards from the back wall. If he succeeds (or if his opponent hits the ball but fails to return it over the net) he wins the chase and with it the point. If the second bounce falls farther than four yards from the back wall (or if he fails to return the ball at all) he looses it.

At more than six yards from the back wall the chases are named after the side galleries -- last gallery, second gallery, the door and first gallery. These being a long way from the back wall are bad chases. Even worse are chases which fall on the other side of the net. To distinguish it from the service end this is known as the hazard side, and when the second bounce of a shot from the player on the service side falls in the half of the hazard side nearer to the net a hazard chase is laid. The other, or back, half of the hazard side is the 'winning area', and here -- as in the dedans, the grille and the winning gallery -- a point is won outright.

Although points are won and lost as in lawn tennis when players hit the ball into the net or out of play, the distinctive features of tennis are the hazards and the chases, both of which have been lost in the development of lawn tennis. To lay a good chase -- the best is 'better than half a yard' -- requires great control of length, speed and cut, and the combination of hazards and chases offers an enourmous variety of possible situations and possible strokes for each situation. Moreover, the ball, which is like a lawn tennis ball but solid, may be chopped, cut, twisted or topped by the (asymetrical) racket so that it behaves in a weird and widely differing ways after contact with a wall. The best tennis players literally stroke the ball rather than hit it.