REAL TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIP - Newport, R.I. - May 19-20, 2004 (click HERE for event photos)
First Day. [first day's report] R. Fahey (Aus) bt T. Chisholm (US) 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0. (He lead 4/0 in the best of 13 contest) Second day results; Rob Fahey (Aus) bt Tim Chisholm (USA)4-6, 6-5, 6-1, 6-3 (2 hours , 11 minutes) Fahey wins 7-1 overall.
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
NEWPORT -- Few people have heard of Robert Fahey or Tim Chisholm. Nor are many even familiar with the sport they play.
But the obscurity of real tennis (only slightly related to the game played at Wimbledon) and its two best players didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the 150 well-dressed spectators who traveled here from as far as England and Australia for yesterday's start of the sport's world championship.
Their applause echoed off the concrete walls and floor as Fahey and Chisholm, dressed in white shorts and jerseys and carrying curved wooden racquets, stepped onto the indoor court at the National Tennis Club. Soon the players were whacking a hard, felt-covered ball over a sloping net, off the walls and onto the roof of a balcony. At one point, the ball struck a net covering a gallery area, sounding a dangling cowbell and indicating a point scored.
The sport is so quirky that even its most ardent admirers readily acknowledge its eccentricities. The equipment and clothing haven't changed with the times, and the rules are so convoluted they are virtually impossible to explain to the uninitiated.
"It's a crazy game," said Dick Poholek, a local player who helped organize the championship. "It takes six months to learn how to score the game."
But it's a sport that fans love for its long tradition -- it's nearly 800 years old -- and its fast pace. The ball can travel at speeds up to 140 miles an hour (referees, called markers, have been knocked unconscious after being hit by one). It also requires a great deal of strategy. Game official Lachlan Deuchar, comparing real tennis to regular tennis, said, "It makes for a deeper game, like checkers vs. chess."
With many professional sports garnering worldwide media attention and rewarding top athletes with fame and fortune, real tennis is an anomaly. Players won't grant interviews in the hours, even days, leading up to the championship match ("It's about the intensity," explained one official). They also collect relatively modest prizes. Fahey, the defending champion from Melbourne, Australia, stands to take home $57,000 if he holds onto his title.
And while cameras recorded yesterday's match, there won't actually be any TV coverage of it. It will go direct to videotape to be sold to fans. Even if the sport could get onto ESPN, said Poholek, viewers would probably be stymied.
"They wouldn't understand it," he said.
Although it may not have been a banner day in the world of sports, it certainly was one for Newport. It was the first time since championship play began in 1740 that the city has hosted the event.
"It's a great honor," said Jane Lippincott, club president. "I keep telling everyone this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
The sport actually dates back to the 12th century, when it was played without racquets on the walls of French monasteries and courtyards. At that point, it was known as jeu de paume and was similar to today's game of handball.
The game evolved over the years, as players took to using mitts, then short-handled bats and finally wooden racquets with strings. They look similar to the ones once used by those other tennis players before the sport embraced graphite, titanium and other modern materials.
When replicated at other locations, courts retained the features of the the ones at monasteries and castles -- including the gallery windows, the rooftop, even an angled wall -- all making for challenging caroms and seemingly contrived scoring opportunities.
When newcomers to the sport are first brought onto a court, "People say you're making it up," said one player. They may also have difficulty with the terms, which include French words such as bisque, tambour and coup de breche.
Today, there are only 10 courts in the United States. Half of the 41 courts in the world are in England.
AS MATCH TIME approached yesterday afternoon, spectators took courtside seats behind netted gallery windows and stood along the balcony overlooking the court.
They came to see Chisholm, who is from New York City, challenge Fahey, the defending champion. The real tennis world championship is run much differently than other racquet tournaments. In some ways, it's like boxing. There is no draw. The defending champion takes on a challenger who has proven himself worthy by winning matches leading up to the championship.
The fans, however, are much different than the ones you find at boxing bouts or most American sporting events. They don't holler or heckle. The men dress in jackets and ties. Many have Australian or English accents, reflecting the sport's relative popularity in those countries and its ability to draw die-hard fans from faraway places.
Many of those in the audience yesterday were either acquainted with the players or involved in one of the sport's professional organizations. In fact, at the end of the championship, which lasts two or three days in a best-of-13-set match, the players and spectators join together on the court for a group picture. The photographs from previous championships hang on the wall of the club, which has about 150 members.
"It's like family. We put them [the players] up in our homes," Poholek said. "You get to be with all the players at the top. It's a small universe."
Thursday, May 20, 2004
World champion Rob Fahey of Australia repelled the challenge of American Tim Chisholm to retain his title and prove yet once again that he is the best - mentally and physically - player in the world today.
Although Chisholm started the second day with tremendous confidence and attack, totally dominating Fahey in winning the first set 6-4,the reality is that he lost 7-1 over the two days, which was a true reflection of the difference between the two players.
The first game started with an error from Fahey, a winning force from Chisholm, another error from Fahey to put Chisholm 40-0 ahead before laying Hazard chase. On Chisholm's first serve Fahey won the chase a with fine groundstroke and then put the ball out of court to lose the game.
The winning grille shots were missing from Fahey's game ( he later said this was due to 'sphincteritus", an Australian technical term) and it was Chisholm's turn to use the grille to dominate. He was defending the dedans very well and keeping the ball low, robbing Fahey of his attempted winners. Chisholm hit a clever forehand boast to beat Fahey's last gallery chase and led 2-0.
Fahey got rid of some of his nerves to take the next three game, but Chisholm shook off this run to win the sixth game to love and then used all his guile and skill in the seventh game, recovering from impossible positions to save the point and continuing his strategy of keeping the ball skidding into the back corners.
Chisholm lead 5-3 and then lost the ninth game as Fahey hit two consecutive grilles to win the game and suggest that he was back in his own superior groove. In the next game Chisholm dominated the backhand cross-court duels, hit another crucial main-wall/dedans winner to lead 40-30 and take service with Fahey having to beat a chase better than three, which he failed to do, giving Chisholm the first set 6-4.
Fahey won the first game of the second set and went 40-0 up in the second. Chisholm showed he was here to fight by battling back to win the game, surely an important pointer to his state of mind.
They exchanged games to 4-4, Chisholm took the next game on his own serve to lead 5-4 and then led tenth game 30-0, just two points from a two-set lead on the day. But Fahey moved up a gear, produced two incredible serves to take the game, and as it was to prove, take the heart from Chisholm.
Chisholm's body language showed that the failure to win that game hurt and he laid two bad chases in the eleventh game which Fahey had no problem winning to take the set 6-5.
That really was the end of the of the American challenge for this year. Chisholm was still thinking about the second set as he played the third and from 1-1 Fahey took the next seven games in a row to win the set 6-1 and lead the final set 2-0. Fahey was now hitting the grille - one winner with a broken string - and finding the winning gallery with half-volley returns. Chisholm was hitting the net again with his service returns.
And so, with a perfect forehand cross court into the corner to beat Chisholm's yard worse than last gallery chase, Fahey wrapped up another world title to win the day 3-1 and 7- 1 on aggregate.
Despite his ten year reign, Fahey was relieved rather than joyous at his victory.
"I'm just glad to be out of it. The hardest thing is winning and I was suffering from sphincteritus; I was incredibly nervous. In the second set I played some tough stuff and Tim let himself down. That is all I needed," Fahey said before accepting the winner's cheque of $57,400, the biggest in the history of real tennis.
A BIG PAYDAY
Chisholm had to be content with $16,500 and the vow to try again in two years.
"I had a bad day on Tuesday and didn't play very well. I had opportunities to win that second set today and 2-4 down would have been a lot different from 1-5, But Rob hit the only two unreturnable serves of the day at 5-5 to win the set. I let down in the third, still thinking about that and I couldn't get back," Chisholm said, vowing to be back in two years.
Referee Lachlan Deuchar felt that Fahey's nerves were due to the day's rest.
"He's got 48 hours to think about his 4-0 lead, to change his mind set. If he came back and lost it, he would an idiot. If I had been Tim I would have tried some new stuff today after what happened on Tuesday. But you know, I don't think it would have changed a thing. Look at it this way: from 4-5 down in the second, Fahey won 10 out of the next 11 games. That tells you something," Deuchar said.