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Road tennis: A national sport with a difference

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Originally published on: 18/11/11 11:31

Ever since Road Tennis started in the 1930s as a cheaper alternative to lawn tennis, the sport has been tremendously popular on Sylvan Barnett’s home island of Barbados.

A former Road Tennis champion, Barnett has been active in helping promote what he describes as “a beautiful sport that we should share with the world” and he certainly enjoys recounting its humble beginnings.

“They used to mark out the court with [chalk] and get a plank of wood and put it across the road,” he says of road tennis’ origins. “It was feasible then because there wasn’t that much in the way of development so there wasn’t much traffic, but it was quite common that when a car passed you would just stop, one of the players would move and lift the net, then when the car passed you would put it down and continue the game.”

Vehicles interrupting play is an annoyance experienced by kids on many a cul-de-sac across the globe, but Sylvan admits that the sport had to rid the quirks and become more professional if it were to be taken seriously. So in 2001, the Professional Road Tennis Association took steps to add more structure to the game.

“We signed the proposals and got a really good sponsor, the Barbados national bank, and they invested a lot of funds into it,” remembers Barnett. “We changed the colour of the courts from green and red to blue, yellow and black to reflect the colours of the Barbados national flag. We were able to put on proper tournaments too.”

Much more than oversized ping-pong on the floor, road tennis is a serious sport with bold ambitions. It’s even been played by world No.3 Andy Murray and the upcoming Barbados National Bank Racquets and Road Tennis World Championships, the biggest event on the road tennis calendar, will be fiercely contested when it takes place on November 26.

“Everyone wants to win that,” Barnett finishes with a grin.

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