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From racquet composition to more recent string innovations and hawk eye line calling, technology has evolved the game and has made it almost unrecognizable to fans who watched tennis in the wooden racquet era even as near as the the 1980s. Tennis’ most famous tournament, Wimbledon, maintains a similar all white dress code as the Racquet Club of Philadelphia. Wimbledon balances its past with the technology of the present with mastery. The All England Lawn and Tennis Club’s most recent technological advancement came with the science of growing the grass. Utilizing a newly developed innovative hybrid grass, meant to adapt to the speed of the modern game, Wimbledon was able to transform the rally length of the average point to make it more fair for various playing styles. The newly developed grass is able to achieve this because it has stronger tufts, making the ball skid less and kick up more thus creating longer rallies and encouraging a variety of play that was becoming increasingly one dimensional serve and volley tennis. The goal is quite the opposite when it comes to the quest of the Racquet Club of Philadelphia where Court Tennis is preserved for historical precedent.
In Court Tennis (aka Real Tennis in Europe) locking in to its origins and preserving the game is the primary goal. Adaptive court surfaces or modern racquets with lighter frames aren’t part of the culture. It’s a refreshing experience in a world that is constantly evolving. An appreciation for the past right in the heart of Center City Philadelphia. The club is part museum part social club part health club for racquet sport enthusiasts. With only a few courts left in the United States, it was a lot of fun to visit the club and try the sport for the first time. I’ve seen court tennis played in New England specifically in Boston at The Tennis & Racquet Club and in Rhode Island at the International Tennis Hall of Fame and always wanted to try it. I was fascinated with the court dimensions and rules. To be honest, I spent most of the time simply getting familiar with the feel of the equipment including the oddly shaped wooden racquet and the hand made tennis balls. About the only modern thing I could find in Court Tennis was the synthetic string.
Court Tennis Racquets are strung much tighter than tennis racquets. They are actually strung manually and can go up to 100lbs in tension. This leaves natural gut strings an impractical product to use because it would be difficult to pull to that degree of tension without the risk of breakage.
Even the tennis balls were hand crafted and had much less bounce than the rubber based tennis balls your dog chases in the back yard. Once I was on the court, I had to quickly adapt to my wooden racquet tennis playing style from my youth. A Continental grip is the most practical grip to utilize and using your wrist will leave you quickly humbled as I discovered within one swing. Here my friend Valentina tries out Court Tennis for the first time. Watch as she gets a feel for the game. Get ready tennis fans as the ball bounces far less than what you are used to. A “wiff” or two is part of the learning process as you adjust the timing of your swing to the lower bounce.
TIP! Most shots are executed with the forearm and a lower center of gravity to get under the shot and create weight transfer.
As I hit some balls with the Club’s assistant tennis coach, I became fascinated with the roof or what they refer to in Court Tennis as the Penthouse. I tried out a few basic underhand serves off the penthouse to get a feel for the action. I was trying to hit them easy but since I’ve never played they kind of went all over the place. See highlights on my Instagram Page here. I did notice later when I dropped by the court for another look, that players used very traditional techniques for serving and hitting overheads, which seemed very effective. There are certain areas of the court that players are incentivized to hit. The markings on the court are also prevalent for the rules and historical context. The scoring is the same as tennis but the rules are much different and are for another blog entry.
The clubs service is also top notches as I was greeted as Mr. Lutz upon arrival and throughout the weekend and no task was too large or small for the staff. It’s quite a contrast to the service I am accustomed to here in South Florida and a refreshing change in a city with a lot of sporting and national history. This combination makes the Racquet Club of Philadelphia a perfect fit in the City of Brotherly Love where trusting the process and rooting for the underdogs is part of the local culture’s ethos.