Real tennis star qualifies for British Open at Queen’s Club

Will Burns

Will Burns - Credit: Archant

Real tennis star Will Burns is in confident mood ahead of the Neptune British Open after coming through two qualifiers unscathed at Hampton Court last weekend.

The head professional at the Middlesex University Real Tennis Club, from West Hampstead, qualified for the prestigious tournament – which begins on Saturday – with two straight-set victories.

Hampton Court was the perfect setting for last weekend’s precursor to the Queen’s Club event given that the sport – played with wooden rackets and a cricket-like ball – was made popular in this country by the visiting French during the reign of Henry VIII.

Burns, who won 6-2, 6-3 and 6-3, 6-4 respectively, had to overcome fitness concerns in order to reach his fifth successive British Open tournament.

“I went into the weekend with a bit of a hamstring injury, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” Burns told Ham&High Sport. “I was pretty much in control of all the sets and dominated at the right times.

“I’m lucky because I’ve been drawn against another qualifier in the first round, which is unusual. I feel I’ve got a pretty good chance to get through to the last 16. I’m fairly experienced in playing at the Queen’s Club, and know how the courts play.

“I’m really looking forward to it again.”

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Should Burns prevail against his fellow qualifier in round one, he would face the current rackets world champion and real tennis world no 8 James Stout in the second – with the draw potentially opening up to a tie against the top seed American and world no 1 Camden Riviere in the third.

The UK has 27 real tennis courts, and Burns – who will also compete in the doubles event provided he overcomes a qualifying round on Thursday – believes anyone who has played squash or tennis will find this racket sport to their liking.

“It’s a mixture of the two games,” Burns added. “You’ve got a net down the middle with walls surrounding the court as well. You can play off all the walls to get it over the net.

“It brings together the angles of squash but also the concept of getting the ball over the net like in normal tennis. It’s a really quick game with plenty of volleying.

“It’s very exciting and you can play at any level as well; there’s a handicap system so even if you’re just starting off, you have a chance against other people as it’s a fair playing field. Membership is open to all and I urge anyone who loves ball games to give it a go.”

Burns, who graduated in fine art at Middlesex University in 2005, took over from Matty Ronaldson as head professional of the club in June this year, and the 31-year-old is calling on budding real tennis enthusiasts to join the 15,000 players worldwide by taking advantage of the state-of-the-art Millennium Court at the MURTC.

“We have a very high-tech and modern court here,” said Burns of the world-class playing facilities established in 2000.

“Most of the other courts built in the 18th and 19th century are made of stone. We’ve got great lighting and under-soil heating in the winter.

“In most courts, it’s like playing in a freezer because they’re really old buildings, but here you can go on in shorts and a t-shirt. To get onto some of the other courts, you have to be quite a fan of the sport – they’re that cold!”

The club holds more than 150 members including staff and students at the university, with membership fees ranging from £50 a year for Under-18s to £32.50 a month for over-28s. For more information on joining MURTC, call Will Burns on 020 8457 9568 or visit