‘Court tennis’ debut draws a royal visitor to Vienna | news/fairfax

Court tennis is known as the “sport of kings,” so it was fitting that Westwood Country Club’s gala for its new court-tennis facility in early November featured a guest appearance by British royalty.

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Forfar, visited the Vienna club Nov. 4 and 5 and took part in the celebration and an instruction session on the exotic sport.

“Prince Edward is a passionate court-tennis player who has played on every court in the world,” said Bryan Stone, Westwood’s general manager and chief operating officer.

“The game dates back hundreds of years and is believed to have originated in monastery cloisters and medieval courtyards, which shaped today’s [court-tennis] courts featuring angled walls and roofs,” he said.

There are only about 50 active court-tennis courts worldwide and only a dozen in the United States, he said.

Westwood officials built the club’s court in collaboration with the US Court Tennis Preservation Foundation after both organizations needed to meet challenges.

A wind storm on Thanksgiving Day 2019 collapsed Westwood’s four-court indoor tennis bubble, necessitating more than $250,000 worth of repairs and causing the structure virtually to be uninsurable, Stone said.

The club’s long-range plan called for construction of a permanent indoor facility, but this likely would not have happened until at least 2026, he said.

But as luck would have it, a club member who is a fervent court-tennis player and a member of the International Tennis Club of Washington (ITCW) said the organization was looking for a new host site for its court.

ITCW about two decades ago built a court-tennis facility at Regency Sport and Health Club, which now is Onelife Fitness McLean. When that club planned to convert the space to other uses once the lease expired, the US Court Tennis Preservation Foundation actively began pursuing new host sites for the court-tennis facility.

Following months of negotiations, Westwood Country Club’s members voted to partner with the foundation and bring court tennis to the club, located at 800 Maple Ave., E., in Vienna.

The partnership accelerated construction of the new facility and revised the original design from four indoor tennis courts to three, plus a viewing mezzanine and bar, a baseline viewing deck, pro shop, two viewing galleries and a court-tennis court, Stone said. The club held a grand opening for the new racquet facility Oct. 16

Prince Edward has a solid relationship with the preservation foundation and was pleased to accept an invitation from the group to visit Westwood and attend its black-tie gala, Stone said. The prince also witnessed some of the weekend’s festivities, including a donor luncheon, book talk and signing, a junior court-tennis clinic and a professional exhibition match.

Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert attended the Nov. 4 gala with her husband, Mike, and said Prince Edward gave a speech during the dinner and chatted with a small group afterwards.

“He was very charming, sincere and had a good sense of humor,” the mayor said. “The prince plays the sport and encourages others, especially the youth, to play.”

The prince was “remarkably personable,” Stone said. “All of us were a little bit anxious to be showcasing the club to royalty. He couldn’t have been more gracious with his time and [was] extremely comfortable and conversational, just a wonderful person to be around.”

While the prince – the youngest of four children of the late Queen Elizabeth II and brother of current King Charles III – did not play a match during his visit, he hosted a junior clinic with Westwood’s head court-tennis professional, Ivan Ronaldson, and struck a ball across the net for a photo opportunity marking the court’s official opening.

Stone said he was excited after taking a brief lesson from Ronaldson, and hopes to play court tennis again soon.

The sport’s equipment only vaguely resembles that of standard tennis. To make the balls, court-tennis professionals crush wine corks, hand-sew them into a bladder and then hand-sew cloth around the bladder, Stone said. “It has a feeling that’s more like a baseball than a tennis ball,” he said. “It’s a harder surface.”

Each player uses a very tightly strung wooden racket with a head about half the size of a tennis racket’s.

“So the ball really zips off the face of the racket,” Stone said. “Some of the better players can hit it 140, 150 mph.”

The rules of court tennis, as with cricket, are “pretty complex,” although the scoring is similar to the 15-30-40 game of tennis, he said. But because the two ends of the court are not identical, players always serve from one side of the court and must play off of an angled roof.

A series of lines on the court’s surface – the exact meanings of which are “beyond my comprehension,” Stone said – denote various point scores depending on where the ball lands on its second bounce without being hit.

Court-tennis courts vary in appearance and roof materials used, but the angles of the roofs and “tambor” – a buttress-like area that juts onto the playing surface – are standardized, he said.

All of Westwood’s facilities, including the court-tennis area, are part of the club’s private amenities that are accessible to members and guests, Stone said. The court occasionally will be accessible for introductory clinics to boost interest the game, and it will host rare tournaments and international competitions featuring players from around the US and the world.

The court during its first month of operation has been booked solidly from 7 am until 10 pm every day with everything from friendly matches and competitions to lesson and clinics, Stone said.

“Not only is it a great place for the preservation foundation to maintain the game, but also a really unique amenity for the Westwood members to enjoy,” Stone said.

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