What is Real Tennis (Court Tennis)? A Guide to the Original Game

Real tennis, also known as court tennis, is a racquet sport that originated in the medieval era and is considered the precursor to modern-day lawn tennis. The game is played on an indoor or outdoor court, which is divided into two halves by a net, and is surrounded by walls. The objective of the game is to hit the ball with your racquet in such a way that your opponent is unable to return it.

Real tennis is a highly strategic game that requires a combination of skill, agility, and precision. Unlike lawn tennis, which is played on a flat surface, real tennis courts are designed with a variety of slopes, angles, and hazards, which add an extra level of complexity to the game. The ball used in real tennis is also different from the one used in lawn tennis, as it is smaller, heavier, and made of cork and felt.

If you’re interested in learning more about real tennis, there are many resources available online, including instructional videos, articles, and forums. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a beginner, real tennis is a challenging and rewarding sport that is sure to provide hours of entertainment and excitement. So why not give it a try and see for yourself what makes this ancient game so special?

Not Your Grandparent’s Tennis

Real tennis, also known as court tennis, is an ancient game that has been played since the Middle Ages. It is the historical precursor to modern lawn tennis, which is derived from it. The game was popular among the nobility and was often played in castles and palaces. Henry VIII was a fan of the game and had a court built at Hampton Court Palace.

Ancient Origins

Real tennis is the original racquet sport from which the modern game of tennis is derived. It was played in enclosed courts, which were often asymmetrical in design. The game was played with a variety of balls, including ones made of cork, leather, and wool. The rules of the game were also different from modern tennis, with the second bounce being allowed to occur on the roof and the game point being called 40.

Indoor Courts, Asymmetric Design

Real tennis courts are typically indoor and feature an enclosed, asymmetrical design. The court has a sloping roof running along three sides called a penthouse. The walls of the court have various angles and features, including the tambour and grille, which add to the complexity of the game. The tambour is a protruding part of the wall on the returning side, which affects the trajectory of the ball. The grille is a netted hole in the wall, which a player can hit the ball through to score points.

Complex Scoring

The scoring system of real tennis can be quite complex, with each set consisting of up to eight games. To win a game, a player must win four points (15, 30, 40, and game point). If the game is tied at 40-40, it is known as “deuce,” and a player must win two consecutive points to win the game. Simplified scoring variations exist, but traditional scoring is still used in most matches.

Real tennis is a unique and challenging sport that requires skill, strategy, and athleticism. It is a game that has stood the test of time and is still played today in approximately 40 courts worldwide. If you’re looking for a new and exciting way to play tennis, give real tennis a try!

A Game of Skill and Strategy

Real tennis, also known as court tennis, is a game of skill and strategy that requires a combination of physical and mental abilities. In this section, we will explore some of the key aspects of the game that make it unique and challenging.

Heavy, Solid Rackets

Real tennis rackets are traditionally made of wood and have angled heads designed for generating spin and strategic shot placement. The weight of the racket and the shape of the head allow players to hit the ball with precision and control. The racket’s weight also affects the player’s stamina and endurance, making real tennis a physically demanding sport.

Handmade Balls With a Core

Unlike modern tennis balls, real tennis balls are handmade and have a core made of cork. This construction difference affects the ball’s bounce and playability, making it more challenging to control and predict. The ball’s weight and size also vary depending on the court’s surface, adding another layer of complexity to the game.

The Importance of Spin

Spin is a crucial element in real tennis, as players use topspin, underspin, and sidespin to control the ball’s trajectory and speed. The court’s various surfaces and angles also affect the ball’s spin, making it essential to adjust the shot’s spin and power accordingly. Mastering spin requires practice and skill, and it can give players a significant advantage over their opponents.

Mental Game

Real tennis is not only a physical game but also a mental one. Players must analyze the court’s geometry, the opponent’s positioning, and their own strengths and weaknesses to gain a tactical advantage. The mental game requires focus, concentration, and strategic thinking, making it a challenging and rewarding aspect of the sport.

Real Tennis Court Features Demystified

If you’re new to the game of real tennis or court tennis, you may not be familiar with all the unique features of the court. In this section, we’ll demystify some of the most important features of a real tennis court.

The Tambour

The tambour is a protruding wall section that significantly changes ball bounce dynamics. It’s located on either side of the court, just beyond the service line. When a ball hits the tambour, it can bounce off at a variety of angles, making it a challenging target for players to hit. Skilled players can use the tambour to their advantage, using it to make difficult shots that their opponents can’t return.

The Grille

The grille is a window-like opening located on the main wall of the court, just above the service line. It’s a scoring target, and hitting the ball through the grille earns the player points. The grille is a small target, and hitting it consistently requires precision and skill.


The galleries are spectator areas located above the court on either side. They’re a unique feature of real tennis courts, and their slanted design provides an excellent view of the court for spectators. The galleries also serve as a strategic area for players, as balls that hit the walls in the galleries can bounce back into play.

Other Features

In addition to the tambour, grille, and galleries, real tennis courts have several other unique features. The service penthouse is a small room located above the service end of the court, where the server stands to begin each point. The back wall is located at the hazard end of the court, and balls that hit it can bounce back into play. The hazard chase is the area beyond the tambour, where balls can bounce off at unpredictable angles. The last gallery is the final gallery on either side of the court, and hitting the ball into it earns the player points. Finally, the winning gallery is the highest gallery on either side of the court, and hitting the ball into it wins the game.

Where to Experience Real Tennis

If you are interested in experiencing the traditional and rather addicting game of Real Tennis, you might be wondering where to find courts. Real Tennis is a rare and exclusive sport with less than 50 courts worldwide. However, there are still many venues where you can experience this unique and historical game.

Rarity and Exclusivity

Real Tennis is a sport that is not widely known or played, which makes it all the more special. The sport is played on a variety of surfaces, including grass courts, hard courts, and private courts. Due to the limited number of courts worldwide, Real Tennis is considered an exclusive sport.

Notable Locations

Real Tennis courts can be found in several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and France. Prominent clubs in the United States include the Racquet and Tennis Club in New York and the Philadelphia Racquet Club. In the United Kingdom, the court at Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII played, is still in use today. Other notable locations include the Royal Melbourne Tennis Club in Australia and the Jeu de Paume Club in France.

Resources for Finding Courts

If you are interested in finding Real Tennis courts near you, there are several organizations that can help. The International Real Tennis Professionals Association (IRTPA) and the United States Court Tennis Association (USCTA) both provide information on Real Tennis courts and clubs worldwide. Additionally, many Real Tennis clubs have websites that provide information on their facilities and events.

Why Learn About Real Tennis?

Real tennis, also known as court tennis, is the original racquet sport from which the modern game of tennis (also called “lawn tennis”) is derived. While lawn tennis has become the more popular version of the sport, real tennis has a rich history and unique characteristics that make it worth exploring.

Appreciating Tennis History

Learning about real tennis can deepen your understanding of how tennis evolved into the modern sport. Real tennis has been played since the Middle Ages and has contributed its name and scoring system to lawn tennis. By exploring the history of real tennis, you can gain a better appreciation for the roots of the sport and its evolution over time.

New Strategic Challenges

Real tennis offers a unique intellectual puzzle for experienced tennis enthusiasts. The game is played on a court with asymmetrical features and a variety of obstacles, which requires players to develop new strategies and techniques. If you are looking for a new challenge in your tennis game, real tennis is worth exploring.

Exclusivity and a Sense of Tradition

Participating in real tennis can offer a sense of exclusivity and tradition. The sport is played at a limited number of venues around the world, and many of these venues have a rich history and sense of tradition. If you are interested in being part of a centuries-old sport and experiencing the unique culture of real tennis, it may be worth exploring.


Real tennis isn’t just a sport; it’s a living piece of history. Each time you step onto a real tennis court, you’re connecting to centuries of players, from kings and courtiers to passionate enthusiasts who have kept this unique tradition alive.



Q: I’m a tennis player, so how different is real tennis (court tennis)?

A: While the core idea of hitting a ball over a net exists, real tennis has significant differences. Think different court (walls, angles), heavier rackets, handmade balls, and a focus on strategic spin rather than power.


Q: What’s with all the weird names in real tennis – tambours, grilles, etc.?

A: The real tennis court has unique features built centuries ago. The tambour is a protruding wall section, the grille is a scoring target, and there are many more elements that make the game so different!


Q: Is real tennis only for the super-wealthy or something? I’ve never even seen a court!

A: Real tennis courts are indeed rare, and there’s a historical association with exclusivity. However, there are organizations dedicated to making the sport more accessible, and the appeal lies in its unique challenge.


Q: Do I need special equipment to play real tennis?

A: Yes! Real tennis rackets are traditionally wooden and angled, unlike modern tennis rackets. The balls are also different, being harder and less bouncy. Some clubs may have equipment for beginners to borrow.


Q: Where can I even find a real tennis court to try this out?

A: Sadly, they’re not on every corner! Check the websites of organizations like the IRTPA (International Real Tennis Professionals Association) or USCTA (United States Court Tennis Association) for their court locators.

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