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Keeping tennis real after all these years

Philip Barker

Amid the media frenzy attending Chelsea’s title, Tottenham’s rainbow- fuelled farewell, the race for the Champions League and the play offs, you might have missed the 150th birthday of one of the oldest events in sport. Philip Barker reports.

For the record, the winner of the Gold Racquet prize for real tennis, (established 1867) was a 30-year-old Geordie called Jamie Douglas who beat Ed Kay, a Cambridge University post graduate in engineering.

They fought an epic five-set match at Lord’s and what thrilling watching it was. Returns of serve touching 90mph. Both men found angles Djokovic, Federer and Sir Andy would have been proud of. For these details a diligent search of the internet would have been needed, for there was no mention in the press, although the match was streamed on social media.

Jamie Douglas

What a contrast with a century ago when each stage of this and many other real tennis tournaments were chronicled in great detail in the nationals.

This was probably not surprising, the sporting editor of The Times was one Evan Baillie Noel, a gifted all rounder at anything which involved a racquet. He won the men’s singles racquets at London in 1908 Britain’s first gold medal of the 1908 Olympics. Real Tennis was also on the Olympic programme then.

The winner was an American called Jay Gould. His exploits were well known to the readers of the broadsheets. So too was the man he beat, Eustace Miles, a revolutionary in sports diets who opened his own vegetarian restaurant, produced recipe books, a handbook on physical culture and his own line in dumbbells.

The coverage of real tennis continued to the second world war and beyond and other racquet sports were not forgotten. Jim Dear the racquets champion is in our record books as one of the five sportsmen of the year in 1949 (we were known then as the Sports Writers’ Association).

His fellow laureates were boxer Freddie Mills, cyclist Reg Harris, Johnny Leach from table tennis and speedway rider Tommy Price.

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