Real tennis hero completes worldwide 45 court challenge

A PIRBRIGHT man who took up real tennis after being diagnosed with leukaemia has completed an epic challenge, playing in 45 courts around the world and twice competing against the Earl of Wessex.

Graeme Marks, 56, completed the challenge in two and a half years and is now hoping to play on new courts being built in France, the US and Australia over the next year or so.

NET GAINS – Graeme Marks took on the real tennis challenge after being diagnosed with leukaemia and has twice played the Earl of Wessex

Graeme was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia, which affects the white blood cells, four years ago and says it was a reality check, leading him to move home from Abu Dhabi, where he was working in financial services.

He went from full-time work to being a consultant and later took up real tennis, an indoors version of the game that predates lawn tennis, as he no longer had the energy for his sports of cricket and triathlons.

“It’s ideal as its indoors and courts are booked for only an hour,” Graeme said.

He said the game is not only about power and speed but also involves tactics and is sometimes called “human chess”.

“There is a very good handicapping system, so you can be thrashed by a 15-year-old or a 75-year-old.”

Graeme said his involvement in real tennis soon became an obsession and he embarked on trying to play on courts around the world, with his brother-in-law, Nick.

At the same time, the Earl of Wessex, a keen real tennis player who learnt the game at Cambridge, was taking part in a year-long tour of every court in the world as part of his work for the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

A raffle prize and a real tennis competition win meant that Graeme played the Duke twice, losing the first match but levelling the series with a victory in the second one.

Because of the Earl’s passion for the sport, it is now included as one of the bronze activities that make up the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Graeme’s leukaemia is now in remission, although he has to take chemotherapy tablets.

He said he hopes to play on a new court in Sydney in his native Australia, where a niece is due to be married over the next couple of years.

“The friends I have made, on and off court, and from all walks of life, have been fantastic. I have also loved the physical and mental challenge of the sport and the travelling around the world,” Graeme said.

For the full story get the 9 January edition of the News Mail

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