Jeu de Paume: Holding Court in Paris

Court tennis, the quirky game of finesse and speed that once dominated France, is now kept alive by a small group of Parisians

The current game of jeu de paume evolved from a game played by southern French villagers and monks in the 11th century. (Jonathan Brand)

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“To build a court from scratch it’s like one million Euro to make it nice,” he says. “And to renovate an existing structure, well, let’s just say it’s even more.”

The enormous cost of creating new structures is just one of the obstacles to a rosier future for the game. Access to existing courts, public awareness and the steep learning curve of the game also prove to be limiting factors. But there are a few bright signs: the Comité receives limited funding from the French government and there are agreements now in place between every club, including the one in Bordeaux, and local schools to train younger players.

And earlier this year, 17-year-old Mathieu Sarlangue, a top player at the Société Sportive, won the Racquette D’Or, the French national amateur championship, and breathed some fresh air into the game.

“If newcomers arrive to find a good young player like Mathieu,” Kressmann joked to me in March, “it’s even better because they won’t think it’s all old guys like me.”

But unless Roger Federer suddenly decides to hang up his lawn tennis racquet for paume, the reality is that this sport will continue to live on for years as it has here in Paris and the rest of the world, toeing the fine line between past and present.

The author has been a Comité-sanctioned player in Paris since February and estimates he ranks somewhere between 169 and 170.

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