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Murray tries a different route with Road Tennis

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Originally published on: 17/11/11 17:30

When we kind folk at tennishead invited 24 kids from across the country to watch Andy Murray play road tennis at an adidas video shoot, they responded with a resounding ‘heck yes’.

It wasn’t until later when they’d had time to digest the offer and plan their route to a secret location in North London that the inevitable question dawned; what on earth is road tennis?

Let us explain.

Originating in Barbados over 80 years ago and popular on the Caribbean island to this day, road tennis is – as the name suggests – a short form of tennis played on back streets and quiet roads.

The court is effectively a table tennis table embedded into the ground, the rackets are oversized wooden bats and, continuing with the theme, the rules are identical to table tennis – a serve bounces on the server’s side of the net first and the winner is the first to reach 21 by two clear points.

The greatest disparity between road tennis and the table top game is that a skinned ball – effectively a tennis ball with its fur removed – is used, while the sport requires participants to bend their knees and backs and get down unusually low to the ball.

Like virtually all racket sports for those with decent hand-to-eye coordination, road tennis is incredibly addictive. There to promote the release of the new Barricade 7.0 shoe in a video shoot for adidas last week, Murray enthusiastically took to the challenge of playing former Barbados champion Sylvan Barnett at his own game, even if it did take him a good few rallies to get to grips with the sport.

“It’s just weird because you’re always looking down at the ball; you’re arching down, whereas in tennis the ball is always up here,” said the Scot, raising his hand to his chest.

“It’s impressive,” he added of the talents of Barnett, at first his road tennis mentor and, soon enough for the intensely competitive Scot, his rival. “You think having played tennis a lot we’d be able to control the ball really well but it’s just a completely different feeling to hitting a tennis ball.”

Also joined at the shoot by recently retired former WBA Heavyweight Champion of the World David Haye and English musician Example, Murray relished the chance to put the pair through their paces.

“I’ve done a lot of things where I’ve played other sports and gone to watch other sports people but I never really play [racket sports] with anyone outside of tennis so it was good fun,” said the 24 year old. “They’re actually surprisingly good. I think Example had been practicing though. He got here quite early…”

When he’d finished pounding Haye, who had a touch of the Marat Safin’s and aggressively blamed his bat for defeat, Murray delivered the ultimate birthday present to tennishead invitee Nathaniel Ballard by asking the just-turned 15-year-old on to the bright blue court for a showdown.

“It’s not everyday you get to play against and meet the world No.3,” reflected Ballard. “At first it was strange being on court with him, but after a while I was fine with it when my nerves calmed down.”

A consummate professional, Murray is certainly not one to hand over victory in a racket sport, not even to a youngster and especially not with the former Barbados champion still to play in the Grand Finale as birthday boy Ballard would testify.

“He’s obviously really focused on every type of court,” assessed the teen of the two-time Grand Slam finalist.

Murray, who also played swingball with brother Jamie as a kid and plenty of table tennis and padel tennis when he was an emerging teen in Spain, concluded that aspiring tennis players could learn plenty from shorter forms of the game like road tennis.

“I’ve never seen [road tennis] before but it’s good fun,” said Murray. “It’s so cheap to have loads of those little courts – just to have five or six of those courts would cost absolutely nothing.

“It’s a good fun game and if you start playing that as a kid it will definitely help you with tennis later on.”

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