Jeu de Paume, Anyone?

Pete Sampras and the Williams sisters play tennis. The author and his fancy French friends prefer its ancestor

It originated in medieval times, became a favorite sport of French and British aristocrats and today enjoys continued popularity among an athletic elite on both sides of the Atlantic. Unlike conventional tennis, which is often played on an open grass or clay court, jeu de paume (the "palm game") is played indoors on a court featuring all sorts of strange features and surprises. The ball is handmade of cloth, and the wooden racket looks like a big spoon. Strategy is complicated. Volleys are fast and unpredictable.

The author, an American journalist based in France, has become addicted to the game. He plays on the oldest, biggest court in the world. It is located in the royal palace at Fontainebleau. The only thing more fun than the spirited matches played there, he notes, are the sumptuous lunches served afterward.

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