Chris keeps it real for nearly three decades

Chris Bray in action
Chris Bray in action

After 28 years of service, Petworth House Tennis Court’s long-serving professional Chris Bray has decided to move on.

He is to become the general manager of the Middlesex Real Tennis Club in Uxbridge in order to be closer to his home town of Cambridge.

He started his real tennis career as trainee assistant professional to Brian Church at the Cambridge University Court in 1982. In 1985 he moved to the Seacourt Club on Hayling Island as assistant to Peter Dawes, and in 1988 was appointed at 21 years of age to be the head professional at the Petworth House Tennis Court.

It was at this time his game started to improve and he became, at various times, British national under-21 and under-24 singles champion, and he and Mike Gooding became the No1 ranked doubles pair in the world.

Bray’s big breakthrough came in 1994 when he won the French Open Singles and thus was eligible to challenge for the 1995 World Championship, and he took part in four further challenges up to 2004.

In the 1997-98 season he had his best year, winning the French Open for a second time, the British Open, the US Open, the UK Professional Singles and the US Professional Singles. In 1999 he won the Australian Open thus becoming one of only five players in the modern era to have won all four National Opens.

Bray’s big breakthrough came in 1994 when he won the French Open Singles and thus was eligible to challenge for the 1995 World Championship, and he took part in four further challenges up to 2004.

Bray was British No1 for eight years and for six years he was ranked the No2 player in the world behind Australia’s Robert Fahey, who is still the champion.

During his first tenure at the Petworth House Tennis Court (1988-2005), court usage and membership increased dramatically. He combined his playing career with continuing his education, qualifying as a member of the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Managers, and gaining a diploma in management in 1995. In 2005, he took three years out to work for a sports management company.

Bray re-joined Petworth House as manager/head professional in 2008. By then, the club had increased its membership to more than 400 members; it was and still is recognised as one of the leading real tennis clubs in the world. Two professionals work at the court and Petworth’s continuing high court usage shows how the club thrives.

Since his return, Bray and his assistant Tom Durack, who now takes over as head professional, have developed a highly-successful programme for promising juniors with more than 70 junior members – one of whom, Charlie Braham, has at various stages become the national under-14, under-16 and current under-18 champion. Four schools play on a regular basis (Westbourne House, Windlesham House, Cottismore, Seaford prep) along with Seaford College and Midhurst Rother College.

Recently Bray was involved alongside the Tennis and Rackets Association (the governing body of real tennis) with the successful rescue of the Holyport Real Tennis Club working as head professional at both the Petworth and Holyport clubs. He and his team of professionals increased the membership from a precarious 55 in May 2011 to 175 in three years. In 2014 Holyport was bought by four members and is now going from strength to strength.  

Bray is the current chairman of the Real Tennis Professionals’ Association. His off-court passions include history, sociology and DIY (at which he is admittedly terrible). But he is universally admired for his coaching abilities and expertise – considered one of the best teachers in real tennis. He is also a fully-qualified lawn tennis coach (USPTR pro grade).

He lives in Woking and has a son Harrison, 17, who is studying A levels at Farnborough College. His long standing partner, Julia, is operations manager at the David Lloyd Club in Cambridge.

He has made so many good friends at Petworth over his 28 years in post and he will be sorely missed. Members thank him for his enormous contribution to real tennis at Petworth and look forward to welcoming him back in a year’s time at the opening of the club’s exciting extension which will transform all its facilities.

ALAN CHALMERS

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