Training in the sport of special kings

Maidenhead (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Josh Smith is a professional tennis player who has a difference: he plays, trains, and even makes balls for members of the Holiport Real Tennis Club in the leafy suburbs of London.

Smith is a cavernous and historic brick building in Berkshire, west of the capital, built in 1889 by famed court builder Joseph Beckley.

Royal tennis boasts the world’s oldest racket sport, made famous by British King Henry VIII, and is the predecessor of the modern game of tennis.

Holyport asymmetric stadium, an indoor game, includes many special features such as sloping ceilings, openings in the walls and the buttress protruding from the wall, the drum, that makes the ball change direction.

Resident professional Josh Smith kicks a ball at the Holyport Real Tennis Club Adrian Denisav

To make the game more challenging, each area is unique: the characteristics remain the same, but the dimensions and conditions vary.

The balls are handcrafted and sturdy, while the paddles are wooden with a slanted tip and a small sweet point, emphasizing skill and precision as well as strength and power.

Players in action at the Holyport Real Tennis Club Adrian Denisav

Smith, 31, ponytail, is ranked 13th in the world and wants to rise even higher, but at the same time he has to juggle his other roles at the club.

“I do almost everything here,” he told AFP. “My personal ambition is to improve myself as a player. That is what I am in the game for, so I train hard and train hard.”

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Smith also trains and manages the great land, which is built in the lower part of a garden belonging to a large house that has been converted into a retirement home.

“I make balls, I wear everyone’s rackets, all those kinds of things,” he said. “I would say that is the most unique element of being a true tennis professional, and how diverse our roles are.”

Resident pro Josh Smith wears a racket at the Holyport Real Tennis Club
Resident pro Josh Smith wears a racket at the Holyport Real Tennis Club Adrian Denisav

Real Tennis, whose list of world champions dates back to 1740, is played in only four countries: France, Australia, the United States and Great Britain.

‘Character’

“This game has a depth of character that other sports I’ve played don’t have,” Smith said. “It’s not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s hard to compete with hundreds of years of history. There is something special about it.”

Josh Smith is ranked 13th in the real world tennis rankings
Josh Smith is ranked 13th in the real world tennis rankings Adrian Denisav

“There’s something great about hitting a real tennis ball. I like this puzzle, I like that it’s hard. The game puts me against a wall, but it’s part of the same thing that keeps me coming back, so I love that aspect of it.”

Smith said it’s unrealistic to earn a living just by playing tournaments with limited cash prizes.

The most lucrative positions for senior professionals are in the United States, but salaries in Britain are lower.

Smith got into the sport through squash, working first as a true tennis professional on the royal tennis court at Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII played in the 16th century.

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He believes he has time on his side, as players can play up to their forties thanks to a heavy skill element rather than brute force.

Josh Smith (back of the court) coaches a player at the Holyport Real Tennis Club
Josh Smith (back of the court) coaches a player at the Holyport Real Tennis Club Adrian Denisav

The current Australian world champion Robert Fahey is 54 years old.

“I’m still hungry,” Smith said. “My personal goal is to win the old titles, those old trophies that have been played for so long: the British Open, the Roland Garros, meaningful titles. I want to put my name on one of them.”

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