Wim­ble­don? Now for a rac­quet

Staines Informer - - NEWS -

“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.

Pic­tures: Gareth Rich­man.

It’s all in the wrist ac­tion.

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