REAL TENNIS: Rugby School girl youngest player in World Championships

Felicity Sargent and Tara Lumley
Felicity Sargent and Tara Lumley

Teenager reaches quarter-finals of handicap doubles

Rugby School teenager shines as Earl of Wessex marks historic Women’s World Real Tennis Championships

Felicity Sargent

Felicity Sargent

The talented Felicity Sargent, 17, a Lower 6th former at Rugby School and the youngest player in the Women’s world Real Tennis Championships at Leamington Spa showed her doubles pedigree after bowing out of the singles to the world’s top Under 21.

Felicity from Combrook near Warwick lost in straight sets to the eighth seed Tara Lumley, 20, a former US Open champion in the second round but won four matches to reach the quarter-finals of the World Handicap Doubles championship partnering Eve Shenkman 17, of Manchester. The youngsters were then narrowly edged out by the eventual winners Lucy Hutchinson and rising star Isabel Candy.

Sargent and partner Linda Sheraton-Davis lost a hard-fought battle in the Open Doubles to former world champion Sally Jones from Newbold Pacey near Warwick and Hatfield’s Louise Mercier. However she remained upbeat and took the positives from her performances against the world’s best.

“I had a fantastic week,” she said. “It was a real privilege to take part in the first women’s world championships ever staged in the Midlands on my home courts of Leamington and Moreton Morrell. I’ve learned so much about the game, getting the chance to compete against the current stars and it was a real lesson in courtcraft to see how they keep a beautiful length and step in to volley any loose shots. I was pleased with how I served and kept calm under pressure and it was great to get so far in the Handicap Doubles. I was amazed at how friendly and encouraging everyone was too. It’s a close-knit game and there’s a big move to get more girls playing it, so this has really inspired me to keep working hard on my game with my coach, the Leamington pro Ben Matthews.”

Felicity Sargent, 17.

Felicity Sargent, 17.

For Felicity, who also plays lawn tennis and squash in Rugby School’s first team, this was the culmination of a stellar season in which she scooped a string of trophies, including the National Handicap Tournament for her Division, the Leamington Tennis Court Club Under 21 Championship and the Leamington Family Doubles title with her brother Tom. She also reached the final of the British Under 18 Girls’ Championship at Queen’s Club and last summer was selected for the British junior development squad.

The World Championships attracted a record entry of players from Britain, France, Holland Australia and the USA, and there were special celebrations that Leamington Real Tennis Club was hosting it just 7 years since it voted to admit women members after 162 years as an all-male bastion. HRH The Earl of Wessex, himself a keen player and ambassador for the game, presented the prizes and as expected world champion Claire Fahey, 23, the head professional at Holyport Real Tennis Club near Windsor and the greatest woman player of all time swept the board as she defeated her sister Sarah Vigrass from Essex in a thrilling battle to retain her singles world crown. The pair then took the doubles title thrashing six times world champion Penny Lumley and daughter Tara 6-0 6-0.

“It was a fantastic tournament,” said Ladies Real Tennis Association Chairman Alex Garside. “And really encouraging, too, to see so many talented young players coming through, including Tara and Felicity who’ve been working very hard on their games and have made huge improvements. The viewing galleries were packed; all the matches were streamed live on YouTube and we had generous sponsorship and corporate hospitality throughout the week so it’s given hundreds of people the chance to watch the women’s game for the first time – and played to the very highest levels. We’re also hoping lots more women and girls will be inspired to take it up as it’s a really strategic game with a good handicap system that means women can play it on equal terms with men.”

REAL TENNIS

Felicity Sargent playing in the world championships

Felicity Sargent playing in the world championships

There are 48 Real Tennis courts worldwide and it is played at 25 clubs in Britain, including Hampton Court, Manchester, Oxford and the Queen’s Club. The picturesque, tactical sport is sometimes compared to three-dimensional chess, with sloping porches called penthouses and scoring similar to lawn tennis but including terms like ‘the dedans’, ‘the grille’, ‘hazard half-a-yard’ and ‘chase the door’.

Players use asymmetric wooden rackets to hit the solid, hand-stitched balls over a drooping net and off the walls and penthouses and guile is at least as important as pace and power. For centuries it was an all-male sport and women only started playing seriously in the early 1980s but the game has expanded rapidly and the top female players now compete in Open Championships in America, France Australia and Britain.