ITF 700 British Indoor Championships – Wrexham

Thursday 23rd September 2021

Something is breaking in the news about a shortage of petrol. We nip out late to fill up the car to ensure we have fuel for the trip to Wrexham. No queues at the local petrol pumps at 9pm. Does this news put the trip to Wrexham in doubt? The 10 0’clock news is’n’t inspiring. There is no need to panic the voice says as a picture of a man with a landrover is shown filling up two large petol cans! I guess the news tomorrow morning will make things clearer.

Friday 24th

The petrol situation is a still a little unclear. The cottage is booked for the week and the ITF 700 British Championships are waiting. This event is the last one of the season marked on my spreadsheet in bold. I have been looking forward to this for a while. We are of course going to go.

Saturday 25th

Saturday morning, we set off as planned and apart from noting an accident on the M5 near Bridgewater, well cleared before we got anywhere near it, the journey is trouble free, assisted by the sensible decision to veer off the motorway and head cross country on the A roads. The slow progress through Hereford is probably nothing compared to the car park that in my experience is the M6 northbound. Not panic buying, but just to be on the safe side we top up twice on route. Social media is alive with the long queues at petrol pumps at home in Newquay. People no doubt filling up for their journeys home.

We find the Wrexham tennis centre with ease.  The referee’s office is at the far end of the building on the first floor. I wander along to say hello and just check on arrangements for tomorrow and to enquire about practice courts. The question is a first as no one else has yet (or will) book a practice court. We agree on 8am court one. I say that if anyone else expresses an interest in practice then they are welcome to join me.

“We have you a new doubles partner, as the original one has dropped out injured” I am advised. Not having met my original partner, the news is received with a nod of acknowledgement. Even better he is in the building and he (Steve) agrees to join me for practice the next morning.

Sunday 26th

The morning practice is a good chance to loosen up and get my strokes flowing before the match. I am feeling good this morning, quite relaxed and I like the courts, which is good.

We are on court slightly before 9am. It’s a small touch and for the entry fee the court official spins the coin to see who will have the choice of serve or choice of ends. I am receiving. There is a strict five minute warm up overseen by the court official. “One minute please”.The momentary likeness to playing a grand slam at Wimbledon, quickly passes, though this is the biggest seniors tennis competition in GB, here at the Wrexham tennis centre. Seven courts strung out in a row, with spectators obviously not given much consideration in the design.

“Ready to play”  First point a tame forehand return nudged into the net. Second point a mis hit back hand floats wide. Third point I get the ball back in play and it comes back out of my reach. Fourth point my return of serve goes long. It’s not the start I want. However I run these scenarios in my mind when practicing, so I am not totally thrown.

Second game, I win one point on my serve, a cross court forehand that catches the top of the net and evades the approaching player. Third game again to love. That is one point gained in the first three games and there has been no rally beyond three strokes. This might be quick.

Memory is tricky but I possibly gained another two points. All in all three points won in the entire first set.

Very solid and error free is the best way to describe my opponent today. He is taller than me, moves well and gets to the net frequently. I have worked out that the backhand a single hander is his favourite shot. He seems to be able to direct at will cross court or down the line. I get a short ball and play a good ‘in my terms’ approach shot the ball passes me cross court with ease. Mmmm!

So lets be clear I am in the middle of  a good old fashioned thrashing here. I am not playing badly, just not being allowed to play well. This type of pressure tells in subtle ways. I do get two short ball opportunities, one on the backhand drifts wide and the second coming forward on my forehand hits the net just below the tape. Both are the consequence of doubt, a lack of conviction in the shot. On another day in a more even contest I would make both of these relatively routine shots.

Second set. I think I manage 5 points in this set. In two games a I get to 30 and in one I lead 30-0. That is as good as it gets today.

Outclassed and well beaten in less than an hour. Strangely while disappointed to lose I am not downhearted. What if anything have I learnt?

The only balls to my forehand today were when I was on the run. I was never allowed to settle into a forehand rally ball. And on every point my backhand has been pressured. I have been able to rally cross court sliced backhands though anything short allows him to get to net or guide it deep into my forehand corner.

Serve has held up ok with only one double fault.

He made only one unforced error in the whole match.

Overall I was too passive and never really played with total conviction. It just reinforces my belief that a good start is all important. Good that I stayed calm and composed trying to figure out what to do for the best all the way until the last point. Even though I was not able to come up with a solution.

Was there anything in my preparation that I could have done differently or better, this is important, before I dismiss the experience.  What have I learnt?

Did the 4.5 hrs sleep Friday night make any difference or the fact that after the 8am practice I never gave myself a few precious minutes to consider the match and the performance I wanted to achieve. I had deviated from my routine, a routine that I believe had been bringing me better performances. Had the change of routine really made any difference? I will never know, but it certainly had not being doing any harm.

What else? How much if at all did that last practice session played with a racket strung 2lbs lighter make. I recall the relative lack of control, a different feel on the ball. Sending one racket for restringing as the string bed had gone dead was the right decision, but the timing?

The tendency to introspection and to over react after a result like this would be easy to do. A disappointing result is an excuse for some junk food at the country park were we go to walk the dogs. The junk of choice is a sausage roll – first for many a year – and I immediately know why, there is little of taste or texture to make the offering attractive. Perhaps fortunately as I re – position the sausage roll in its paper bag for the next bite, it leaps – that is the only way to describe it – and arcs toward the ground. At the moment of contact with the ground, it is met by the jaws of the ever alert Jack Russell and never seen again. 

Fortunately we have dogs to walk and meeting my brother for lunch is  a further welcome distraction.

Monday 27th

It’s doubles today, though not until 5.45pm.

Dogs need exercise and there are interesting places to visit. The aquaduct rated as the number one reason to visit Wrexham, does not disappoint. It is a wonderfully conceived and executed feat of engineering and slightly unnerving to walk across with two lively dogs, one of which looks ready to either jump in the canal or jump on  a passing barge. Tightly held leads are the order of the day.

I arrive in good time at the tennis centre. There has been a full day of play, witnessed by the large numbers of players sitting around in the café/bar area.

We are overmatched against a highly rated pairing. It’s great fun but succumb 1-6, 1-6. More pleased with my performance than in the singles, as I brought a lot more energy to the court.

That brings to a close my short and sweet visit to the ITF British Indoor Championships for 2021. It’s great to mix with some of the best players and to understand the gap between myself and the best. Back to the practice court with renewed enthusiasm.

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