Did you know Prested Hall is home to a 13-time real tennis world champion?
PUBLISHED: 10:45 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 10:51 17 July 2018
Essex is home to real tennis icon Rob Fahey who just wrapped up his 13th world title. Essex Life went to visit the star at Prested Hall and found him busy preparing for a Royal visit this month
While the nation’s attention turns to the green courts of Wimbledon at this time of year, Essex is home to its own Mecca of tennis, real tennis. Prested Health Club & Spa, a beautiful 15th century manor house in Feering, is the training base for a world champion tennis player.
Not Roger Federer and lawn tennis, but Rob Fahey and real tennis. The initials might be the same, but the games are several hundred years apart.
Real tennis originated in Tudor times and was popular with Henry VIII, who played at Hampton Court. Over centuries the game has evolved and simplified to become the lawn tennis that we know today. But real tennis still lives and thrives, particularly here in Essex.
Rob is the resident real tennis professional at Prested Health Club & Spa and he’s just become world champion for the 13th time. Although still played in only four countries in the world (Australia, England, France and the USA), real tennis has put Essex on the map, with Prested Hall one of only 27 venues in the UK to offer the sport and one of only two centres to offer two courts.
The courts at Prested were built in 1998 by real tennis enthusiast and former Prested Hall owner Mike Carter. Prested is now the home court of Australian Rob and his wife Claire, both real tennis professionals at the top of their game.
How does Rob describe the sport he loves so well to those unfamiliar with it? “With difficulty,” Rob laughs.
“The simplest way is to say it’s a combination of tennis and squash, but actually it’s far more convoluted. I usually sidestep the question, as explaining the scoring complexities doesn’t lead to the most exciting dinner party conversation!”
Rob gained his racket skills at an early age in his home town of Hobart in Australia. At 18, Rob was considering pursuing a professional career in lawn tennis and attending college in the US, but answering an advert in a newspaper changed the course of his life.
“I answered an ad in the Hobart Times for a part-time job. It was 1987, I was 18 and had a fairly successful career in lawn tennis behind me as a junior. I’d been debating about going to college in the US to pursue my tennis when I saw the advert.
“I ended up staying in Australia, going to university and became the assistant pro at Hobart Tennis Club. I didn’t know a thing about real tennis but it quickly became my passion and the rest, as they say, is history.”
That history is that Rob has won a magnificent 49 Open titles and was world champion from 1994 to 2016. When unseated in 2016, Rob lost his crown to American Camden Riviere who was only seven years old when Rob first became world champion.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, as they say, and there can’t have been a better feeling for Rob than to win back his crown at Queens Club in April, two days prior to his 50th birthday, against an opponent 20 years his junior. So how does he feel about being world champion?
“I guess I’m in a unique situation as there aren’t many 50-year-old world champions,” says Rob. “I think it says a lot about this wonderful game, it really doesn’t discriminate against age. It’s a great aspect of the game that I can return to the top.
“I’m not sure how long it will be for, but I’m going to just enjoy it while I can!”
Rob and the rest of the team at Prested are keen to quash the image real tennis has of being an elitist sport, by enabling and encouraging more youngsters into the sport.
“We try to get out to as many schools as we can to introduce real tennis to the kids,” says Rob. “If anyone wants to start playing but needs financial help, we can apply for assistance from The Dedanists, with whom we have close links.”
The Dedanists (the name comes from the viewing gallery found at the service side of the real tennis court) is a national grant-giving charity created with the sole aim of increasing youth involvement in the sport.
“We’re always happy to hear from schools who would like to increase their sports provision by offering real tennis and I’d encourage any interested teachers to get in touch with me or my team at Prested and have a chat about how we can facilitate this,” says Rob.
Someone else keen to see more youngsters join the sport is HRH Earl of Wessex. Prince Edward, who now heads up the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme (DofE), is a keen real tennis enthusiast.
Throughout 2018, The Earl will seek to play every real tennis court in the world as part of Tennis Challenge 2018 – to raise significant funds to enable more young people to start their DofE both in the UK and abroad. HRH will visit DofE centres, host fundraising events, meet DofE participants and volunteers, and test his real tennis skills by playing against young people and other community members.
The DofE is a charity that needs support and the Earl hopes to generate that support from the real tennis court in 2018. The vital funds that The Earl raises will help the DofE Charity to transform the lives of young people from all backgrounds and circumstances, across the globe; equipping them with the skills and attributes to reach their potential in life and work.
Arriving at Prested Hall in July, the Earl will play local juniors and seniors in a day focussing on raising awareness for the game, and funds for the charity. Along with real tennis, Prested also has lawn tennis courts, and four padel tennis courts which will give the youngsters a chance to try three types of tennis during the Earl’s visit.
Following a day of play, the visit will conclude with a gala dinner where items such as the Earl’s racket will be auctioned to raise further funds for the charity.
So how does the current world champion feel about the opportunity to play his beloved sport against someone who is tenth in line to the throne?
Rob laughs at the prospect. “I actually know the Earl quite well. We’ve played each other many times before. I think this time we should allow some of our real tennis enthusiasts to have that honour.
However, if requested, I would obviously happily oblige. Whether I would let him win or not is a different matter,” concludes Rob, ever the competitor.
For details on the Earl’s Tennis Challenge 2018, to be involved in the forthcoming visit to Prested or for details on a real tennis taster session, visit www.prested.co.uk