Week 78: National Real Tennis Tournament at the Oratory

The rhythm of weekdays in Cambridge had now become so routine that the distinction from one week to another was now barely noticeable. I would usually find an hour somewhere in the day to play some tennis, would spend most of my time at the Cavendish chugging slowly through work, and then stop by college for dinner or make some food at home. Wednesdays were solidly set in the schedule for cricket training. My academic work this week consisted of revising the processes by which dark matter in the universe is set at its present density, trying to figure out what could disrupt it, to little success. It wouldn’t be until the weekend that the exciting part of the week would come.

On Friday morning, I woke up very early and headed to the train station. I had entered a national real tennis tournament, known as the Category G Tournament. It was to be held at the Oratory School, an independent boarding school near Reading. My first match was scheduled for just after eleven in the morning. But to get there, I needed to go on a complicated journey by train into London Liverpool Street, followed by a bike ride along the Embankment and through Hyde Park to Paddington. I needed an early morning train to avoid the restrictions on bikes in the morning rush hour, and then a late morning train from Paddington for the same reason. From there, I took a train out to the village of Pangbourne, a small village on the upper parts of the Thames. I had been there before, when I played tennis at Moreton Morell. This time, I rode my bike across the toll bridge at Pangbourne and up the unexpectedly steep Whitchurch Hill. I stopped by a supermarket in Woodcote to get some food for lunch, and arrived at the Oratory School with plenty of time to spare before my first match.

The court at the Oratory is relatively modern. Instead of being attached to an old manor house like many other courts, it is in a modern shed-like building, with advertisement logos painted on some of the walls. Notably, one of the playing walls featured to large glass windows looking into two floors of the school’s private gym. It being a Friday, there were still classes on in the classrooms around the school, which was a strange sensation. Over the course of the afternoon, I would play a total of four matches on the court. The tournament was divided into two round-robin groups of five players, with the top two in each group advancing to the semi finals. My opponents were from all over the country, including places like London, Leamington, Hatfield and Abingdon. I found the court very difficult to play; it was very bouncy and that made it hard to get into any form of a rhythmn. I won one match easily, but screwed up the other three for rather close losses, 6-8, 6-8 and 7-8. I had been in an advantageous position in each of the matches and on another day could have won any of them, but I just couldn’t close it out. That placed me third in the group, and it looked like my tournament was over. However, owing both to an upset result at the end of the day and the withdrawal of the person who came second in the group from the finals, it meant that I somehow managed to qualify for the semis. That would mean trekking back to the Oratory later on in the weekend.

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For now, it was time to head home, and so I followed an off-road track through the forest back to the train station, and then had to cycle across London yet again to make it back to Cambridge well after dinner time. The long and arduous day had left me exhausted, so Saturday was spent recovering and recuperating from the week that had been. Then, on Sunday morning, I had to make the long trip back to the Oratory for the semi finals. I was advantaged by not having to avoid the peak hour times for carrying a bike on a train, but had lost an hour due to daylight savings, so still had to leave early. I made the long journey to the Oratory without incident. My semi final match was against the winner of the other round robin group, and was thoroughly beat. I still couldn’t handle the vagaries of the court, a fact which was exploited by the physicality of my opponent. I stayed on to watch the final, before making the trip back from Pangbourne to Cambridge yet again, a journey I was now very familiar with. I made it back to Cambridge much early than on Friday, and was able to head up to Churchill college for dinner.

One thought on “Week 78: National Real Tennis Tournament at the Oratory

  1. Glad to hear from you Ben. We always like to read your blogs and hear what you have been doing.. Mum said you ended up in A & E recently. I hope everything is ok now. You and Carol must watch out for hard balls. She was hit in the neck by a hockey ball recently but is ok. We are both busy Papa is blowing the leaves from the drive but I think he is wasting his time as many drop off tree as he blows up. I have been playing Bridge this morning Bye for now


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