Quietly adding the days up. One followed by another.
Doing the work I set out to do. No highlights, just the familiarity and certainty of unbroken routine. This is lockdown life.
Not knowing how any of this effort is going to change the way I play tennis. Internally for sure – as there has been more time than ever to think about it – practically I remain uncertain.
I remain hopeful of some actual progress. Will it matter? Well yes and no.
Yes. I play for enjoyment. Part of that enjoyment is improvement and playing well is a part of enjoyment. It’s a virtuous reinforcing circle. Practice and training should bring improvement, but and the but is this, I will be nearly 61 by the time any competitive tennis returns. Everyone is declining at this age, a bit slower, a little less powerful, more prone to injury (and fanciful expectations), etc. Success might realistically just be halting the decline.
On the plus side more experience to draw upon, added perspective and many other things to do in life – interests and responsibilities. Tennis is not everything as it can be when you are younger. The ability to learn or adapt technique? Is it even possible to undo years of self taught technique and a home grown way of playing the game?
And no. The core thought or principle without which it would all be pointless is how much I am enjoying – just trying – adapting mentally and physically, trying to have no expectations, just applying myself, to see what happens.
There are questions of course, many of them.
Listening to my body, listening to my mind. What does the summit look like? When you hav’n’t been there it can be difficult to know what to do. How do I get from here to there? Where should the emphasis be? Who best to get advice from? Making it up as I go along.
At the very least I have fought the sedentary nature of working from home and kept my weight down. Two things I totally failed to do in the first lockdown a year ago.
On a daily basis I do not feel the decline. However compare my running now to me in my twenties. There is no compare. Back in the 1980s (need to add musical accompanyment – great time for music!) I could run 7 minute miles with relative comfort, now my efforts are more like 8.5 minutes per mile. It doesn’t feel any different. It looks very different.
The measures in tennis are more difficult to know, more subtle, not so finite as when you run. Step outside in your running shoes for 30 minutes and even before you return you will know. The feedback is almost immediate. In reality you will know within about 10 minutes!
Tennis is very different. For starters in tennis you need to find an opponent against whom to measure yourself. Every opponent is different. There is no way of going back 40 years and playing a person you played back then, as they were back then. I can see him though, in his Fred Perry shirt, green flash shoes and wooden Slazenger Challenge No1 racket.
There is a relative comparison of course. Less obvious easier to deceive yourself, but comparison of sorts nonetheless. A couple of years ago in a local tournament I was drawn to play a player from up country, totally unknown to me. Younger certainly, probably in his 30s. It was quite obvious from the start who would win. His whole game was on a level above, but hey that’s why we play – to have a go – do your best. (I might even have won a previous round to set up this match it is possible). I think the match ended something like 0 and 1, and I had no complaint at that. As I said he was much the better player.
One point in particular laid the difference bare. I received a rare short ball – he was probably bored by now at winning so easily. I hit what I thought was a pretty good approach shot deep to his backhand and towards the sideline. He would have to move quickly to deal with this. I would show him that I still had something to offer! And approached the net, cutting off the down the line passing shot (textbook stuff).
If he managed to hit a cross court winner from here, then good luck to him. As I began to set myself for the volley, there was flash of movement, glint of racket against the sun, a whoosh and the ball was past me down the line. Wow what a winner! And there it was, the difference in years spelt out in one very well hit passing shot. He with the speed of relative youth moving at his fastest and me aged almost 60 at the time, moving at my fastest (it’s a relative term). It felt like putting my younger self against this one, no contest.
I remember it so clearly. It was like receiving that instant feedback from running. I am probably not that much better a tennis player now than I was years ago. I was a little faster. As I took stock of the situation, I concluded it was a good passing shot. I reran the point in slomotion (I do this a lot) and realised that far from cutting off the down the line pass, there was a sizeable gap to hit into and I was still a distance from the net. It doesn’t feel a whole lot different. I am sure it looks a whole lot different.
And so to expectation. I really don’t know.
Keeping going now, Monday comes and goes, Tuesday comes and goes, Wednesday … you get the idea. Feels like I am making progress. Tick things off on the spreadsheet.
This moment will not come around again. Three months of no tennis and locked down at home. Opportunity and challenge wrapped together. What have I learnt about anything? I have learnt about making a daily commitment to activity, hopefully building toward improving my tennis. I am today more interested than ever to find out where this goes.
Am I rushing to save something before it disappears or beginning a new adventure?
Footnote: There are just 16 days until the government roadmap will allow the next stage of unlocking from coronavirus and we can step back onto a tennis court again. A court is booked for the afternoon of the 29th. Let’s hope that the gales force winds and rain currently lashing this part of England have subsided by then.