ITF Seniors Grade 1. Tipton GB. January 2020

Friday 3rd 

First thing Friday, weekly weigh-in. It is what it is and it’s 14st 5lbs! I guess the 5 mini pork pies and a handful of tortillas after tennis last night at about 10.30pm have not helped matters this morning.  

It’s an uninviting morning at 6.11am as I head for the car wind and fine rain blowing unseen but keenly felt against my bare legs in the darkness. At the gym reception we discuss the madness of early morning training and agree that morning is the best time to train, sets you up for the day and nothing else interferes. 6 people in the gym this morning, up from 3 yesterday. 

Today is a stretching session, quite painful but in a good way: feel great afterwards. On leaving the gym I feel tall and positive. My earlier thoughts about what am I doing going to Tipton to play the British Championships have gone, bring them on, though need to contact John to inform him that I will not join him in the doubles. Now the prospect of a 500 mile round trip and an overnight stay feels entirely OK, but extending the stay by two nights and losing a workday to play one match of doubles with a partner I have not played with before, is at this point a stretch too far. Remind myself that the ‘why’ about going to Tipton is to get a feel for seniors’ tennis stuff, at this level and assess the gap between my standard and the ITF standard. Hopefully helping to prioritise my own plans for improvement. 

Second session of the day is a lesson with Coach Matt at a cold, windy and sunny Boscowan Park, Truro. I could imagine a day like this in the northwest, at the same time of year would be bitterly cold. Here it is cold but before long I am down to two t-shirts as I am working quite hard. Despite the wind, I am hitting the ball well and the small adjustment to forehand and backhand grip is bringing reward in terms of a little more spin which is what I was after.  

This need for a little more spin I think is at the heart of why I am so inconsistent as without spin I have so little margin for error. Good days can be very good and bad days can be horrible. This small change is encouraging, if I can transfer it from practice court to match court that will be great, even though it is a big ask. Is it even possible to change technique in my 60th year. Time will tell. 

We also took some video footage of my serving and again I can see areas for improvement, even though the wind made the ball toss quite difficult. Foremost is the need to get the ball high enough to take advantage of my 6ft 2ins frame. 

Interesting that when I arrived, I thought this will be hard work due to the wind and low sun. Once fully concentrating the external factors seemed to become less noticeable as all I concentrated on was getting the the ball going where I wanted it to. 

Evening. 3rd session of the day – joined a team practice session indoors at Heron. While not fatigued I was certainly not moving as well as earlier in the day. Coach pointed out that I prepare very late on my backhand which makes it very difficult to time the ball properly. I knew this but had temporarily forgotten all about this other less than technically perfect area of my game, to go with all the other parts! Much to learn and translate into practice. 

Interesting playing with a range of different players this evening, almost everyone has at least one shot that will give opponents problems. Good practice to figure out each of their weaknesses. 

Tuesday 7th 

Set the alarm for 5.51am and arrive at the gym for 6.31am. Get in a full hour of training and feel a new energy as British champs are now less than two weeks away. It’s a really good workout. Someone takes the 12.5 kg dumbells I require just about 30 secs before I require them so have to go heavier to 15 kg and manage surprisingly well. One guy stands in front of the mirror and obscures my view. I was using the mirror to check my balance while doing sit ups on the exercise ball. He’s either done it on purpose or is entirely unaware – who knows – looks like he only sees himself in the mirror. 

Getting the full hour in the gym feels like a big leap forwards – push on now. Must get more specific on court tennis time. Have been trying to figure out what I can do tennis wise without a court and need to start today. 

Thursday 9th 

Another good gym session. After a good night’s sleep arrived with plenty of energy and had a first rate workout. Buzzing after this, but probably need to tone it down for when everyone else arrives at the office. These are real endomorphin highs. I know from home just how irritating I can be in the morning, even without the buzz of a workout behind me. 

Thurs 10th 

It appears I have been under a misapprehension these past few days after submitting an entry for the British Championships. I had assumed that entered meant accepted, so I am relieved to see that I have made the 32 player draw. This would have been a real low if after getting excited about playing the British Championships I had not made the cut. Just scraped in 28th out of 32 players. Phew, relief!

Already getting ahead of myself and thinking I need to win a match to get some points on the board to secure entry into future competitions.  

Sunday 12th  

Outdoors hit today with Robin at Heron. Practice goes well, forehand in particular is really fizzing, getting good, relaxed extension on the take back and good topspin and depth on the shot. Backhand is better as well making better contact in front of my body. 

No doubt if I can hit in matches as I do in practice, then this would be an exciting prospect. While not feeling particularly tense in matches there is still a way to go to translate the freedom of practice onto the match court, when points are on the line. Possibly in practice while striking the ball well I am not noticing the error count. 

Monday 13th 

Message from ITF arrived today. It took several scans to understand the message. Then I saw that my match would now take place on Monday not on Saturday as I had understood from the tournament information. Highly inconvenient as that is a workday. These tournaments as I am rapidly finding out do require a huge commitment, as win and my next match is on the Wednesday. I am much more used to two matches per day win or lose. 

As I suspected I have drawn a seeded player, so a baptism of fire for my first ITF Seniors event.  He’s the no 7 seed from Sweden. A quick look at his profile tells me that my opponent plays these events in several countries. Nothing to lose then. It is not as if he is likely to just be a little bit better, he is obviously a whole lot better than me, so maybe this will allow me to hit more freely, as there is absolutely no expectation. Exciting though to be playing a foreign player. 

After hitting with damp heavy balls yesterday, my arm is sore, feels like the start of tennis elbow! Aaggh! Tennis elbow kept me off court three years ago for several months. Hopefully it will settle down in a day or two. Must get on with some stretching. Just when I was feeling injury free as well. 

Wednesday 15th – coaching session with Woody the new coach at Heron. This is illuminating and we work on lengthening my strokes. I feel that primarily playing doubles has probably shortened my strokes, as everything I am told is a bit choppy. I hadn’t realised this at all so it’s a good point and we work on this aspect of my game for most of the lesson.  

Encouragingly he says there is nothing fundamentally wrong with my strokes, but this choppiness is obviously leading to the inconsistency which I know runs through my game right now. He notes my relative fitness for my age, and we also work on recovery after each shot. Soon breathing heavily, though it is great to be pushed. We also spend some time on the serve, and he advises taking a bit of pace off and working on getting more spin on the ball – primarily slice – again to increase the margin for error and increase consistency. 

Truth be told that while I am excited to be accepted for the British Seniors Championships, I am more or less keeping it to myself as I do feel a bit of an imposter. However, Woody has heard from a source that I am playing. He is very supportive and thinks it a great thing to do. Advises to think about how I play – as in my own performance – and not worry about the result. Good advice. 

Thursday 16th – the change of the draw for the seniors is most inconvenient as rather than stay in the midlands Friday after my meeting there today and then play Saturday it is going to be another journey up and take Monday off. 

Friday 17th – back late last night and a bit tired, so no gym this morning or tennis session as I thought I would be away. Beginning to think this Tipton trip is more effort than it is worth. I see some of the early results from matches played today and several 6-0, 6-0 scores leap out at me. Hopefully I can do something better than that. Time to get myself into a more positive frame of mind and think about my own performance and not just look at results. I have no idea what any of those results mean for those involved anyway.

Saturday 18th – lack of court time is playing on my mind, so a kick up the pants and I get to the club to practice putting a bit more spin on the serve. Jean joins me after half an hour, and we hit before her indoor match. Its great practice as I can work on keeping the length on my strokes and it seems to be working. Jean reports back that she played brilliantly after our hit, so maybe this will become a regular feature. 

In the afternoon I drive over to Totnes for a work reunion with people most of whom I have not seen for 15 years. It’s an unexpectedly large turnout and invigorating to spend a couple of hours chatting to old colleagues. 

Sunday 19th – hit with John who is also going to Tipton is off as he has a cold. I feel for him as I know how hard he has been working and looking forward to this event. I have been avoiding people with colds this past two weeks and even double washed my hands when the cashier at the service station so obviously had a stinking cold as he scanned my purchases. Replacement hitting partner hard to find at short notice. 

Monday 20th  

ITF Seniors Grade 1. Tipton GB.  

British Open Seniors Indoor Tennis Championships 

Match day. I have no idea what to expect 

First job is get myself from Cornwall to Tipton in good time and without hurrying. Treat it like a normal day. All good until Taunton (about halfway) when that tingling in my tum signals some very early pre match nerves. This is way too early and manage to switch it off again, otherwise all the nervous energy will be gone before I even arrive at the venue. 

The pre match anticipation rises again as I turn into the car park at the venue. Just over 4 hours door to door. 
Sign in at the referees desk. Looking out over the courts my first impression is of the range of ages of the players. Ages 35 to 80 plus, on adjacent courts. Fantastic. And many different styles and techniques. Many long rallies. How good do some of these 70s players look and move. The viewing gallery is an unforgiving place, errors are amplified. It all looks so easy from up here  

Remember to do everything I would normally do. Good warm up, quiet the mind. Want to be quiet now 2.30pm pre match. Getting excited now, 2.50pm can’t wait to get on court. Then match delayed, now estimated to be on at 5.30pm. I tell myself calm, relax, breathe. 

Lots of people here know each other, the mood is relaxed competitive if such a thing exists. Lots of conversations around the bar about other events, clay court champs playing for Ireland, playing in the states etc. All good but not for now. 

Warm up in the sports hall and hit a few balls over short tennis net with John. Follow my routine for a good warm up session.  

Return to viewing gallery. A lot of pacing around. One player gives me a hard stare, could that be my opponent? (It wasn’t). Self talk, just have faith in my game. 

My opponent today is Mats Eurenius from Sweden the number 7 seed and possessor of 635 world ranking points. For comparison I have no world ranking points. 
On court in 2 matches time – warm, calm, ready. Sitting, relaxed but not relaxing, idly watching the match on court. My name is called. Awake, alert, feel good, ready, let’s go! 

Lose first set 0-6. That didn’t go to plan obviously. Sensing and feeling calm, no need to panic. Reset. 

Rerun first set in my head for any clues. First game serving and served 5 consecutive double faults to the advantage court. No need to check the record books on this one as this is undoubtedly the most double faults I have ever served in an opening game. Each adjustment resulting in the ball hitting the net just below the tape in exactly the same spot, or so it seems.  Lose first game. Encouraging though, as when the ball was in play, I won 4 out of the 5 points played. With 3 games in the first set going to deuce the 0-score line feels a bit harsh. 

Second set. First thought try not to lose it 6-0. Manage to win the first game, some relief. Then the set unfolds as follows; 

1-0 in the match now 

1-2 despite best efforts I can’t prevent Mats winning the next 2 games 

3-2 feeling more comfortable and playing a few more points on my terms. Starting to be able to read and anticipate opponents shot preferences. 

3-5 a few errors and games slip by quickly. Mats changes his game. I lose a couple of points to drop shots, but equally he misses a couple as well. Need to read the game better, as when his racket head drops below the height of the net and the racket face opens it’s going to be a drop shot. You know this. Shouting inside my head ‘Why can’t you read that!’ 

4-5 string breaks on last point of the game but manage to win the game. 

5-5 switch to other racket which has more weight added and it feels good and solid. Play a very good game for 5-5 including my best shot of the match. Mats is approaching the net forcing me wide to my forehand. I must move very quickly to even have a chance with this one I am thinking.  The only shot on from here is a down the line passing shot. Mats is closing in on the net. I reach the ball and unleash a topspin forehand down the line. Mats lunging with outstretched racket is too late. The ball lands deep in court and leaps away into the back curtain. What a winner. I sense the match is now in the balance, there is something almost intangibly less certain about my opponent right in this moment.

5-6 an error strewn service game. No time for analysis onto the next game.

5-7 Mats plays a solid game. I don’t get a look in before a forehand winner cross court ends the match. 

I feel I have done myself justice in the second set against a good opponent. No complaints. A little self consciously I ask the court official if she will take our photo next to the Seniors Tour banner, as this might well be my only chance to play in such a tournament. 

We retire to the bar area for a post-match chat. Beer or coffee depending on preference. Mats is a really nice guy and we chat for a while. His view of the match was that I was nervous in the first set and ‘dangerous’ in the second set. 

I have so enjoyed this experience. I hope I get another opportunity. 

The drive home is long. A weary contented tiredness descends from the expenditure of physical and nervous energy. More coffee and several stops required before I pull into the drive at home 12.30am. 

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