Pinball tennis

Two business partners stay fit with an ancient racket sport.

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Enstone (right) competes against the more experienced Chapman (left) through a handicap system, at the National Tennis Club in Newport.
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court.jpg
A court-tennis court is 1 1/2 times longer and three feet wider than a modern tennis court.

NEWPORT, R.I. (Fortune Small Business) -- As most tennis players enjoy early autumn weather, Arthur Chapman, 47, and David Enstone, 54, prefer to work up a sweat indoors. Every Monday at 8 A.M., the owners of William Raveis Chapman Enstone, a real estate firm in Newport, R.I., meet inside a cavernous space that resembles the inner courtyard of a monastery, complete with gray stone walls and windows so small you can hardly poke your head through them.

Their game? Court tennis, also known as "real" or "royal" tennis. The precursor of the modern game was historically played by royalty and others who could afford the proper court attire of the time: white trousers and shirts of brocade and silk.

The game combines the aerobic demands of squash with the scoring opportunities of pinball. The courts offer a total of 27 surfaces, not all smooth, so the ball bounces in odd directions. The complexity favors astute players over agile ones. Today Enstone lobs the first serve to the "pent-house." The ball rolls along the sloped sidewall before dropping into play. Chapman misses the return. Enstone takes an early lead and triumphs 75 minutes later. The two agree to meet next week. "Regular tennis is boring to me now," says Chapman.

PLAY Competitors battle in a 110-by-38-foot indoor court with 30-foot concrete walls. Buttresses and awnings create 27 surfaces for play.

SCORING You get extra points for a "chase," when your ball lands in the stripe-marked area on the second bounce.

AURAL IMPACT The sound of the racket hitting a ball blends a shuttle-cock's whistling "thunk" with the crack of a baseball.

BONUS Score additional points by hitting the ball into openings in the wall, called the dedans.

NET A sloping barrier measuring five feet at the posts and three feet in the center divides the court into hazard and service sides.

RACKET Tightly strung, 27 inches, and wooden, with a bent head for easier floor and corner shots. Graphite-laminated rackets can cost as much as $375.

BALL A court-tennis ball begins its life as a piece of cork that's wrapped in tailor's tape and then tied with shoemaker's string before being sewn together with two felt strips (shipped from England). By rule, players start each set with 72 of these hand-made, 2½-ounce balls, which cost $40 each.

SERVICE The game features more than 50 serves (including "the caterpillar"), all of which must land on the penthouse.

PENTHOUSE This sloping roof runs three sides of the court and is an additional surface for playing the ball.  To top of page

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