Tennis: A different way of playing the game

This lockdown thing is keeping me home. There are limited things to do so training is easy. 

We can get back on court shortly, so now is decision time. The season is just around the corner. The staple of the British tennis season for the club level player is the summer doubles league. Played and competed for up and down the country. Typically teams of 4 playing home and away to determine league winners, losers and also rans.

In the last summer season of play in 2019 I managed to rank 56th out of 56 players who took part in the league. Hardly winning a set and never winning a match. It was the first season back after my bad back. Then last season 2020 did not take place. 

Here we are again on the verge of the season. The request is in my inbox. Do I want to play league tennis this season? 

Never before has it been in doubt. I just sign up and play. It’s what I do and look forward to each week in the summer.

Now with my quest in mind, ‘to be the best singles tennis player I can be over the next 2 years’. I am considering if the thing I have done unthinkingly for many seasons is still the right thing to do.  

“If you always do what you have always done you will always get what you have always got” as the saying goes 

I do enjoy it though. Meeting different people, visiting different clubs, after match chat. Usually eat too much cake as well. However it takes time, a whole evening. We all take it seriously; can’t help thinking about the match all day at work. The winning, the losing, the agony and ecstasy of competition.

Should I or should I not? The question has been circulating in my head for a while now. I have been making this way harder than it should be. The act of typing this out has finally made my mind up for me. I am going to decline playing in the summer doubles league for the first time I can remember. There have been seasons when I have not been picked very often, or more recently been injured, but that is very different from choosing not to play.

There have been some great memories. A few, very few league wins, over many years.  I have played alongside some very good players and on occasion with players making their league debut. I always tried to find something to enjoy.

It’s not the obvious memories that stand out either. Here are just three that come immediately to mind….

On court. My partner and I are playing exceptionally well against a pair we know well and who quite reasonably expect to beat us. Against expectation we put ourselves in a winning position. Match point to us, the ball is volleyed down the centre of the court landing in, on the line. An unexpected win! Yeah! Hold on, the ball has been called out. Surely not! Well you can never be absolutely 100% sure and it is the opponents call, after all. Nothing more to be done. Play out the match and never again get to match point. Only the four players on court know their truth of that moment.

Off court. For those of us in our late teens at the time, kicking around in Winsford, Cheshire male unemployment rate at 23%, we were lucky to have found tennis. Anyone will tell the same story of the best after match evenings. These were in the company of the Mid Cheshire Young Farmers. Competitive as anything on court, a total hoot off it. Burger and chips, a few pints and a jolly good laugh. Memorable evenings for impressionable young players, just getting to grips with the game of tennis. If this was going to be the way of things, sign me up for a lifetime pass. Tennis on the dole, saving just enough cash to pay for the after match refreshments.

Encouragement. A cup match. Drawn at home against the mighty Alsager Lawn Tennis Club. Division one royalty arriving in their Audi, to play against the Division Three near novices, by comparison from Winsford. Playing on our two home black tarmac courts, rented from the local council and sloping at that. The wind from across the Cheshire plain an almost constant companion and no clubhouse for shelter. We were truly walloped. It was great to play against these much better players, the best I encountered in those early days. I was congratulated at the end of the match for my spirit and effort throughout and encouraged to keep on playing. The moment has stayed with me to this day, so whoever that was, thank you. It was many years ago, but it stands out and even today creates a warm glow. 

There are plenty more memories. Aylesbury on a damp rainy evening, standing in the clubhouse doorway thinking we had made the trip for nothing. The rain stopped unexpectedly and we had a great competitive evening of tennis. 

Avenue Lawn Tennis Club, Havant. The most hospitable and friendly people. Cycling home on my bike, with a couple of shandies (really just a couple?) on board, tennis rackets across the handlebars. Taking the right hand bend too fast and falling off. The damage to body and bike not fully apparent until the following morning.  

Coming back from 2-5 down. Always a good memory whenever it happens. What about losing that tie break from 9-2 up? No don’t mention that one.

This is a leap of faith, as most competitive club level tennis is doubles. There are very few opportunities to play competitive singles. By removing doubles from my schedule I have removed the structure around which my summers of tennis have existed it seems, almost for ever.

Better reply to that e-mail about playing summer doubles …

Hi, I hope you are well. Just to confirm that I am not intending to play league doubles this summer. Thought I best let you know as I have captained one of the men’s teams for a few year’s. I will still be playing and I am going to concentrate more on my singles for now while the body still allows. Looking forward to getting back on court. Best wishes.

Press send. Ping!

A new adventure begins!

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