Wimbledon? Now for a racquet
“IF you get a net cord and win the point, you don’t say sorry, you shout justice,” explained The Great Gonzo, as we took a tour around the touchtennis arena in Weybridge.
Formerly home to the bowls club in Churchfields Recreation Ground, the pristine lawn had been transformed into eight touchtennis courts for the All England Championships.
“And grunting is encouraged, as is diving to reach the ball,” Gonzo, also known as Gareth Richman, 43, an avid player and ambassador for the game, added.
Each player has a nickname, Gareth/Gonzo continued, as he pointed out The Magician limbering up in the distance.
Touchtennis is played on reduced-sized courts, with a lower net, and uses foam balls and 21-inch kids’ racquets. It was developed by 44-year-old Rashid Ahmad in his Claygate garden in 2002, initially as a way to entertain his young daughter.
Rashid, or the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time), dominated the game in its early years, but is slipping down the rankings as he gradually takes a more managerial role.
The game still has its roots in Elmbridge, and Churchfields Rec is open every day from 11am to dusk for people who want to try out the rapidly-growing sport.
When I visited on Saturday June 25 there was a (slightly) more serious vibe in the air, with the highest ranking competition in the game – the All England Championships – being staged.
There were advertising hoardings from the likes of racquet makers Babolat and sporting goods giant Wilson lining the courts, and free bottles of ID’EAU water were being handed out to competitors.
The game is developing fast and Rashid is right behind the growth.
He said: “It started off in my garden in Claygate and we’ve ended countries.
“This weekend is the culmination of that. It’s the biggest of all of them, a slam, a £5,000 event that has players from all over the place battling it out to win the trophy.”
The Churchfields Rec setting only added to the occasion, Rashid said, and there was appreciation of the support from Elmbridge Borough Council.
“It’s fantastic here. Any sport becomes that much better when you play on grass. Even darts should be played on grass,” he added.
“It’s just lovely to see a bunch of people, bathed in sunshine, playing a fun adaptation of tennis and not taking themselves too seriously.”
Intrigued by his nickname, I wondered how he became the Greatest Of All Time.
“I’m too humble to talk about my greatness, how many times I’ve dominated everyone I’ve ever played and my amazing 238 weeks at up in 23 number one,” Rashid said.
Touchtennis, as the name suggests, relies on a deft touch and careful stroke-play over raw power. For this reason competitions are able to feature mixed singles and doubles contests.
Laura Deigman, 23, a professional tennis player, was introduced to the game by Rashid and she enjoys the mixed aspect.
“Touchtennis is very much a leveller. Anyone can play it,” she said.
“For instance, the guy I’m playing today. On a tennis court it could be a very different story, but today we could have a pretty competitive match.”
I heeded the advice that anyone can play the game, grabbed a racquet and headed out on court.
And who better to show me the ropes than Elliott Mould, the 26-year-old world number one who honed his skills on the tennis courts of Walton as a youngster.
I soon realised that this format is different to tennis – high-effort shots seemed to realise little reward.
Close to greatness: Reporter Tom Smurthwaite and world number one Elliott Mould.
Nick Bohringer makes a tough shot.
It’s all in the wrist action.