Bunhill: Tennis club plays for real

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The Independent Online
NOW THE Olympics are over, attention among sporting City types is turning to the real thing . . . real tennis, to be precise.

The centuries-old forerunner of what aficionados insist is the inferior modern version of the game, real tennis is an altogether more subtle way of working off all those pounds gained sprawling in front of the television watching the underwater ballroom dancing from Barcelona.

Despite the arcane rules and primitive equipment - heavy wooden rackets with misshapen heads, and balls that don't bounce properly - real tennis is enjoying a boom.

But while there is no lack of players willing to explore the mysteries of the dedans, grille and tambour, there is a distinct shortage of the vast indoor courts they need to play on. There are only 20 in the country, including just three in London: at Lord's, Queen's Club, and of course Hampton Court, where Henry VIII set the ball rolling 450 years ago.

Help is at hand, at least for the well-heeled who can afford to join the exclusive Harbour Club on the site of the old Fulham power station. In addition to 14 lawn tennis courts, indoor swimming pools and the usual trimmings, the club will include the first real tennis court to be built in London this century.

Conder Projects, whose chief executive Alan Lovell is a fan of the game, is carrying out the building work for a company called Leisure Tennis; the pounds 7m project is financed by the Hongkong Bank. And there's a special offer: membership is available for pounds 1,495 until the end of this month (when the club opens in January it will cost pounds 2,000). Since membership is resaleable, it could prove an investment even for those who fail to master the sloping roof on to which you have to serve the ball.

Why real tennis? 'It's different, interesting, fashionable and fun,' says a spokeswoman. But there may be more to it than that. One (male) enthusiast told Bunhill: 'It's a great way to attract girls. They like the clean- cut, gentlemanly image. They're tired of all those Agassi lookalikes arguing with the umpire and throwing their awful metal rackets about.'

(Photograph omitted)