A squash coach from Bury is looking to break his way into the top 10 of the real tennis world rankings.
Darren Long, of the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club, plays the sport professionally and is currently ranked number 11 in the world.
Real tennis is the original form of the game widely played today. It has a similar scoring system and set of rules to lawn tennis, but is played indoors on an enclosed court with a hard, cork ball not dissimilar to a baseball, and a wooden racket with a small sweet spot.
Players are permitted to hit the ball off the walls of the court, and matches are played continuously over the course of anything up to 13 sets.
Darren took up the sport after taking job at a school in Dorset with its own court: “I’ve been a squash player since I was 14 years old, and I was working in a few schools coaching it.
“A full time position came up at Canford school for squash coaching and they have a real tennis court, and part of the job was real tennis.
“I’d played squash at a county level and Canford had a team, so I’d been there playing for the team I used to play for in Weymouth. I’d seen the court but I’d never been on it.
“I could hit the ball, but in terms of playing I suppose I took to it quite quickly.
“I trained a lot with Steve Ronaldson, who taught me a lot of stuff and I turned up to my first tournament after about eight months of playing and I caused a bit of an upset by beating one of the older pros.
“I was playing the world champion the next day, so that was quite an experience.”
Since turning professional, the 29-year-old has travelled all over the world for his sport, taking part in tournaments as far away as Melbourne, and as close to home as Manchester.
“As a guy who played squash for many years before getting into real tennis, you’d play some tournament in a different county; you’d turn up, you’d play, and then you’d go home.
“This has opened up a world that I thought I’d never be a part of if I’m completely honest.”
Senior professional Darren Long makes it 3 in a row at the Category A championships! Defeating Louis Gordon 6/0 6/3 in the final! pic.twitter.com/G0992keeV9
— MTRC (@MTRC1874) April 22, 2018
Most recently Darren competed at the US Open in Boston, where he made it to the quarter-finals before being knocked out by the world number two.
He said: “It was my second time in Boston. I like it, it’s a good city.
“It was my first major event as a seed which was quite a nice experience. You seem to get a bit more attention, people are more interested about you so you spend a lot more time chatting to people. It was really good fun.”
The senior professional is no stranger to winning in the US though, and picked up the US Professional Satellite trophy in 2016, adding it to the IRTPA Satellite trophy he won on home soil the year before, and always enjoys his time in the States: “I’d say the best place to play in terms of hospitality and being looked after, and the beauty of the area, is Newport, Rhode Island, which is the US Pro singles, and that’s every year.
“Because it’s the last tournament on the season calendar there’s a lot of social events. There’s some golf involved, there’s pro-ams, there’s just everything going on and there’s a nice feel.
“It’s at the Hall of Fame, which is the lawn tennis centre where they used to hold the US Open, so it’s just a very nice place.”
And despite being modest about his success, Darren now has the top 10 in his sights: “In all honesty, when I think about it, I’ve already gone further than I expected.
“I think now it’s just taking one step at a time, so if I can, go from eleventh to tenth, and I look at the next guy in front of me.
“I’ve got my eyes on that guy just above me, and then the guy after that, and take them one by one hopefully.”
Even though there are only 43 surviving courts worldwide, spread across the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and France, Darren says real tennis popularity is on the rise: “The sport is growing. We don’t have lot of courts and we know that, but courts are being built as opposed to being taken down.
“Every sort of five to ten years a court is being built somewhere. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but as a percentage that’s quite a growth.
“As a pro in the game, and when we meet as pros, we’re confident we’re moving the right way.”
Darren is next in action at the US Professional Singles tournament in Newport, Rhode Island in June.