Maidenhead (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Josh Smith is a tennis pro with a difference: he plays, trains and even balls for members of the Holyport Real Tennis Club in the leafy suburbs of London.

The Smiths Estate is a cavernous and historic brick building in Berkshire to the west of the capital, built in 1889 by renowned court builder Joseph Bickle.

Royal tennis claims to be the world’s oldest racquet sport, was made famous by the British King Henry VIII, and is the ancestor of the modern game of lawn tennis.

Holyport’s asymmetrical courts, an indoor game, include a number of special features such as sloping ceilings, openings in the walls and a buttress protruding from a wall, the drum, which causes the ball to change direction.

Resident Pro Josh Smith hits a ball at Holyport Real Tennis Club Adrian DenisaFP

To make the game more challenging, each terrain is unique: the features remain constant, but the dimensions and conditions vary.

The balls are handcrafted and sturdy, while the racquets are wooden, with an angled head and a small sweet spot, emphasizing athleticism and power, along with skill and accuracy.

Players in action at Holyport Real Tennis Club Adrian DenisaFP

The ponytailed 31-year-old Smith, ranked 13th in the world, wants to climb higher but also struggles with 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’s what I’m in the game for, so I work hard and work hard. ,

Smith also coaches and manages the impressive grounds, which were built on a garden floor belonging to a large house that was converted into a retirement home.

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“I make balls, I put on everybody’s rackets, all that kind of stuff,” he said. “I would say that the most unique element of being a true tennis professional is how diverse our roles are.”

Resident supporter Josh Smith puts on a racket at Holyport Real Tennis Club
Resident supporter Josh Smith puts on a racket at Holyport Real Tennis Club Adrian DenisaFP

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.


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

Josh Smith ranks 13th in the World Real Tennis Rankings
Josh Smith is ranked 13th in the World Real Tennis Rankings Adrian DenisaFP

“There’s something wonderful about hitting a real tennis ball. I love this puzzle, I love that it’s hard. The game really pits me against a wall, but it’s part of what makes me happy.” Keeps bringing back, so I like that side of it. » «.

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

The most lucrative positions for top professionals are in the United States, but salaries are low in the UK.

Smith entered the sport through squash, having previously worked as a true tennis professional at the Royal Tennis Court at Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII played in the 16th century.

He thinks he has time on his side, players in their 40s are able to play, thanks to a heavy element of skill rather than raw power.

Josh Smith (court back) trains a player at Holyport Real Tennis Club
Josh Smith (court back) trains a player at Holyport Real Tennis Club Adrian DenisaFP

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

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

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