One of only three university real tennis clubs in the country is fighting the planned closure of its court.
Middlesex University was gifted its court in The Burroughs, Hendon, in 2000 and has since converted the building to also include a gym and a dance studio.
But it has now said the club cannot adequately contribute to Middlesex’s development strategy and says it intends to close the court in four years’ time.
Real Tennis, which was played by Henry VIII and often called the “sport of kings”, only has three university courts in the world, one each at Oxford and Cambridge and one at Middlesex.
More than 3,500 people have signed a change.org petition protesting the closure, and the club and university are currently in negotiations.
Jack Carter, the student captain, said the club sees the wide range of members as part of their appeal and value to the university.
First introduced to the club by a friend who was a student member, he hopes to turn pro but admits the sport is quite niche and hasn’t been advertised on campus as much as it could be.
He said: “It’s been a bit of a word-of-mouth thing because honestly a lot of people haven’t heard about real tennis.
“The thing with it is, once you get people on the court they’re hooked, but it’s difficult to get them on the court.”
Real tennis differs in several ways to the modern sport, such as the fact that it is played on an indoor court with handmade balls more akin to baseballs than the modern equivalent.
It was originally played by the aristocracy, most famously by Henry VIII, who had a court at Hampton Court.
The modern tennis term “serve” was coined because games were originally started by servants as it was deemed too lowly a job for noblemen to throw the ball onto the slanted roof as the sport requires.
The court is also split into a grid, and players can score a point by hitting it into certain areas or by winning a “chase” by hitting the ball further than their opponents.
The club has hundreds of members outside the student body. These include professionals such as Will Burns, who was previously the no. 14 player in the world and Dick Carruthers, who has made music videos for artists such as Alicia Keyes and Oasis.
Members from outside the university pay £36 monthly, plus court fees, while students can join the club at a discounted rate.
Mr Carter said: “I don’t think we have other societies in university where you mix with so many other people out of university. I wouldn’t get contact with Dick Carruthers through going to a music society.”
A university spokesperson said: “Middlesex is proud to have housed the Real Tennis club and the decision to open dialogue with the club about closure in four years’ time was extremely difficult.
“However, given the club has 50 student members we believe we must use the space to meet the needs of more of our 20,000 students who study at the Hendon campus.”
The petition is available at: https://www.change.org/p/save-our-court-middlesex-university-real-tennis-club
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