To see Good Tennis! What divine joy
Can fill our leisure, or our minds employ?
Let other people play at other things;
The King of Games is still the Game of Kings
- Parker's Piece by J.K.Stephen


Known as Real Tennis in the UK, Court Tennis in the US, and Royal Tennis in Australia, this game is a direct ancestor to the more popular and widely known game, Lawn Tennis. The game itself is supposedly decended from a pastime of a group of French Monks from the 12th Century which they knew as 'jeu de paume' . Originally the game was played in small castle courtyards and cloistered monastery quadrangles, and, as the name implies, it involved striking a ball with the palm of your hand, over a rope.

Gradually, as monks travelled to other monasteries, the more practical rules were more widely adopted, the more bizarre rules abandoned. Players started wearing gloves to protect their hands, and it was then a short step to playing with crude bats, and then onto strung rackets. A scoring system, which was inherited by Lawn Tennis was introduced. Royal Patronage from Henry VII in Britain and Louis XII in France popularised the game in their respective nations, leading to thousands of courts being built, and the laws being officially codified.

The 16th and 17th centuries saw the popularity of Real Tennis reach its peak, It was estimated that over 1800 courts were in existence in Paris alone, as well as one in Versailles, which is now the museum of the French Revolution. one at Hampton Court, which is still used to this day, and even one built aboard a French ship. William Shakespeare even mentioned the sport in his play Henry V, and the opening scene of Edmond Rostands play, Cyrano De Bergerac takes place on a Real Tennis court.

The evolution of Real Tennis into its more popular form started in 1858, when Major T.H. Gem and J.B. Perara invented an outdoor version of the game, adapted for play on grass. By 1877 the All-England Croquet Club which ws based at Wimbledon, decided to hold the first Wimbledon Tournament, and revised the 1858 rules, within a couple of years the game had spread to the New World. The popularity of Real Tennis took a nosedive, due to this young pretender appearing on the scene, but did not die out completely and it is still played today, and is virtually indistinguishable from the 16th century version, to the point that the court that Charles I built at Hampton Court in 1625 is still used for championship play today

The Court

The Real Tennis court is heavily influenced by its monastic beginnings, and gives the players far more scope for strategy than in lawn tennis due to the plethora of uneven surfaces and special rules attatched to different sectors of the court.

No two Real Tennis courts are exactly alike, but they do share common features. All courts are asymmetrical and are approximately 110ft long by 40ft wide by 30ft high. The two short sides and one of the long sides of this rectangular court each have a lean-to known as apenthouse on them. These structures protrude 7ft from the wall, and are topped with a sloping roof which is 7ft high on the court side, and 10ft at the walls. The one remaining long wall, known as the Main Wall houses the Tambour, an angled butress placed about a third of the way inside the Hazard end of the court. Opposite the Tambour is a window in the penthouse called the Winning Gallery

Across the centre of the court, separating the Hazard and Service ends is the net, which is 3ft high in the middle and 5ft high at the ends. On the back wall of the Hazard end is the Grille, and on the back wall of the Service end is the Dedans, a large net covered window in the penthouse. I've tried to represent this arrangement below.

Cue the bad ASCII art - For a proper photo of one of the courts see

                      |                               |
                      |           penthouse           |
                      |                               |
                      |     |                         |
                      |     |                         |
                      |     -                         |
                      |winning gallery                |
                      |     -                         |
                      |     |                         |
                      |     |                         / tambour
                      |  p  |     Hazard End         <
                      |  e  |                         \
                      |  n  |                         |
                      |  t  |                         |
                      |  h  |_________________________| net
                      |  o  |                         |
                      |  u  |                         |
                      |  s  |                         |
                      |  e  |                         |
                      |     |                         |
                      |     |                         |
                      |     |    Service End          |
                      |     |                         |
                      |     |                         |
                      |     |                         |
                      |     |                         |
                      |     |                         |
                      |                               |
                      |          penthouse            |
                      |                               |

On the floor of the court are a series of lines, known as Chase Lines. At the Service end, going from the back wall they are labelled Half-a-Yard, One Yard, One and Two (describing the Half-yard line between the one yard line and the two yard line) and so on up to Six, then Half-a-Yard Worse than Six, the Last Gallery, Half-a-Yard Worse than the Last Gallery, A Yard Worse than the Last Gallery, the Second Gallery, the Door, and the First Gallery. On the hazard side, going from the net. Hazard Half-a-Yard, Hazard One Yard, Hazard One and Two, Hazard Two Yards, Hazard the Second Gallery, Hazard the Door and Hazard the First Gallery. Unsurprisingly enough these markings line up with the galleries you'd expect.

A Synopsis of the Rules - taken with permission from and slightly adapted.

  • Scoring is as in lawn tennis. To win a game a player wins four points and be more than two points ahead of his opponent. The first player to win six games wins the set but it is not necessary to be ahead by two games; the eleventh game is decisive.
  • It is the score of the player who won the last point that is called first. (This is different to lawn tennis)
  • Service is only from the Service end of the court
  • For the service to be correct,
    • the ball must touch the penthouse on the receiver's side; the ball may also touch the side penthouse on the server's side and/or the side wall,
    • the first bounce of the ball must be on or beyond the service line at the hazard end,
    • the server must stand further from the net than the second gallery line.
    • The ball must go over the net but it can first strike the wall or penthouse on the striker's side.
  • The ball is out if it strikes the side walls above the green painted line or hits one of the rafters or lights.
  • The player wins a stroke by playing a shot which enters the dedans, the grille, or a Winning Opening, or by winning a Chase.
  • The only way that the player in the Hazard end can gain the service and switch ends is by laying a chase
    • A Chase is laid when the ball goes into any of the Galleries, bar the Winning Gallery, or when the ball bounces on the floor for a second time between the net and the back wall. This doesn't affect the score at the time.
    • Chases come into play when the score is within one point of game or if two chases have been laid, the players change sides (and service) and the chases are played in the order in which they occurred.
    • The player who has not laid the chase has to win the chase by ensuring that the second bounce of his or her return is nearer the back wall than the chase being played.
  • The gallery posts are considered to be part of the gallery nearer the net.
  • The stone sides of the openings are not considered to be part of the opening.
  • Hitting the net post loses the stroke.

For a full version of the rules, try

Sources include:

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