Jones rises to challenge on refurbished court
Former world real tennis champion Sally Jones from Newbold Pacey has gone into the record books after contesting the first-ever British women’s challenge match in the ancient sport of rackets.
The challenge was staged as part of Malvern’s College’s celebration to mark the refit of its historic Victorian rackets courts, dedicated to their much-loved professional Ron Hughes who died in 2008.
The explosive forerunner of squash, rackets began in the 18th century in the major London debtors’ prisons, such as the King’s Bench and the Fleet then spread to alehouses and the major public schools.
Today it is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s fastest ball-games, with the ball fizzing through at speeds of up to 160mph, and it is currently played in 14 British schools and a handful of clubs.
Once an all-male preserve, growing numbers of women are now taking it up.
For the first-ever women’s contest, Jones, a recent convert to the sport, teamed up with Claire Vigrass, 19, the world’s top female real tennis player. The duo took on Queen’s Club rackets star Alex Kurkjian and former British Open real tennis champion Alex Garside, who is also a county squash player.
In the closest match of the day, Kurkjian and Garside served tightly and retrieved effectively to take the opening game 18-17 after saving two game points.
Vigrass and Jones then came back fighting to level it at a game apiece thanks to majestic serving from the teenager, only for Kurkjian and Garside to squeak through 15-12 in a cliffhanger of a deciding game despite spectacular retrieving and floor play from the powerful Vigrass.
“It was an amazing experience and great to be part of a first for women’s sport” said Jones.
“I’m on a rapid learning curve but I absolutely love my rackets - and because it’s such an explosive sport it really helps speed up your reflexes and mobility for real tennis.”
Following the success of the challenge, the first British Women’s Open championship is being planned for next season, with Vigrass and Jones among the favourites for the doubles crown.