British Open Seniors Indoor – Wrexham – February 2022

Weds 16th

Racket back from stringing in time for this evening’s doubles in the dome. I am promised more spin and more power as we tweak the spec. That sounds like magic.

And as promised there is more power and more spin. The racket now a magic wand, in the hands of the sorcerer’s apprentice mind you. I can do some wonderful things with it and know it has much more potential, but I have yet to obtain the skill to unlock that potential.

Even knowing the potential and the bit of discovery I made during the evening, I started shaping for some shots a little differently.

Arm sore.

Thurs 17th

Slept well. In the twilight zone before being properly awake, I am doubting myself. They are familiar doubts, known to me, but not seen here for a while now. Once fully awake the exactitude of the doubt, is hard to express. Its about the quest for sure. Its about whether trying to be the best tennis player I can is worth the effort. The rewards are slow in coming, to this average talent and surely there is something more productive I could be doing. For instance there is a garden to tend and vegetables to grow, there are people who cannot put food on the table and many other things were I could help in the world, but these things are not mutually exclusive. Maybe the thought is too binary it does not have to be this or that it can be ‘and’

And perhaps its more about guilt about spending time for me. It is by its nature selfish and self centred, not particularly endearing qualities. I had this conversation last summer sat around a table at some tournament or other. The view was that after  a working life it was ok and totally acceptable to take time for yourself, travel, go play tennis and meet people. Enjoy yourself.

Maybe I am in a watershed moment. I have 6 working days left before retirement from full time work. Maybe this new world will take some adjusting to. Maybe I should allow it some space and time to settle. It is after all one of life’s transition moments that we talk about. The question ‘what do you do’ will need a different answer.

People ask me if I am looking forward to retirement and what I am going to do. I honestly don’t know. Yesterday I heard myself say, I’m not going to do anything immediately I’m just going to take a few months to do nothing and get used to the idea. But really I know. I am going to play tennis.

Early morning text, it says – this morning I heard that somebody lost somebody they love. Sadness for their loss sweeps in and remembered sadness sweeps in close behind for personal losses. I sit in my office type swivel chair motionless, peering at the screen, thank the person for the message. Continue to sit in silence, eyes on some middle distance, looking more inwards than outwards.

I find myself in the kitchen. Reaching for the tea caddy on the cupboard shelf. Grasping it gently I am connected to my own losses and of those close to me. Tea is such a common thing that joined and joins us, endless cups shared over the years. I am reminded now, of how they mattered and matter still. There’s a heavy sigh, I feel my mouth pucker slightly and a dampness in my eyes, not quite tears just a moistness to the rim. I hold the moment, gently letting it find its level, letting it now drift by. I open the tea caddy and drop a tea bag into the cup.

What am I discovering? Not sure. Through these thoughts and feelings my quest returns, by my side now, it says gently come on, we can do this thing. And I am more certain once more that we can and that we should.

Evening doubles. Arm incredibly sore inside and outside of elbow, massaging does not seem to be relieving it. Tired this evening. Storm Eunice arriving overnight, spent afternoon and early evening tidying up the garden, and stowing away or pinning down anything that might blow away.

Serve was disjointed, groundstrokes uncertain. Where the racket was a wand yesterday it was a shovel today. A definite case of more not being better. Against my own advice to have a rest day per week, it has been sixteen straight days without a rest.

In such unpromising circumstances, realising that I was not playing well, I eventually got to a place to enjoy what was happening, absorb the experience and learn from it. The tiredness I brought to the court this evening was of my own doing.

As we departed the centre, staff are getting ready to drop the floodlights in the dome as a precaution against the dome deflating. Fingers crossed the dome will be there in the morning!

Fri 18th

Slept well, feel fresher this morning. Storm Eunice doesn’t yet seem as bad as forecast.

Accumulated tiredness hits me early evening and I finally take the early night I have been promising myself.

New tennis bag arrived today. Underwhelmed by its poor quality, so I think it will have to go back.

Sat 19th

Wake refreshed after a good nights sleep.

Get driving for Wrexham at about 9.30am then double back after about 15 mins for battery charger as car radio is not working and that is the signal of trouble. Just across the border into Devon and traffic is at a standstill. It takes over an hour to get moving again. Just the event you do not want with a long drive ahead. The rest of the way is pretty light with traffic, which is a relief.

With the radio not working there is little to distract me from thoughts of tennis ahead. I am pleased that I have not looked in any detail at my opponent tomorrow apart from his name and that he is not amongst the top 8 seeds. Thinking about playing well and being hard to beat, starting positively, ready to go from the first point.

It still turns out to be a long drive at 7.5 hours. Fortunately the airbnb is near to the tennis centre which I find immediately due to clear signposting. Pop in to book a practice court for the morning at 8am and hopefully find someone to hit with. However without the car radio, there is no car sat nav, and my phone will not connect for some reason. Very fortunately I remember I had thrown my work mobile in at the last minute and it is working. Helpfully the airbnb is no more than 5 mins drive from the tennis centre.

I realise that I have forgotten to bring my favourite tactics book and will miss the opportunity to remind myself how to play different styles of player. Upset in the Premier League today as Man City lose at home to Spurs 3-2. Upset mindset is what I need to conjour up overnight. A steely determination to win, what ever type of tennis it takes. I need the feeling that it is my right to win. No one shall pass.

Sun 20th

It’s match day. There’s always more to think about when you are in an unfamiliar place, keys, masks, doors light switches, where to fill the kettle. The more so when you are staying airbnb in someones home. As clearly they lay out how things work, there will usually be a doubt about something. Did they say use the kitchen or not?

Anyway it’s a wet blustery morning. The car starts so that is a relief. It looked on the website like the tennis centre was open from 7am. My 7.30am arrival was still too early, so took a gentle jog around the wet car park. I am on court before 8am. There is a dearth of other players around, at least a dozen of them must be due to start their matches at 8.45am, so it’s a bit surprising that initially only one other court is being used for warm up.

Hmmm! What to do. No other players materialise. I realise that the netting behind the court is on a wire and held at various points along its length by velcro. I slide the net out of the way and have the perfect practice wall to groove my strokes against. I am able to establish a nice rhythm moving side to side and back and forth, the orange ball I carry for hitting against walls works a treat here. I round off the session with some half court serves spinning the ball across into the service box, before serving full court, running though main placements. I remember from previously the need to slightly alter the ball toss due to the lighting; it makes me toss the ball higher which is generally a good thing.

As I finish my session I decide to take a picture of the green wall that has been my practice partner. The oncoming player looks at me quizically. I say ‘just taking a picture of my practice partner’ and quizical now becomes weird. As I collect my things and depart the court, I am shot another strange look. Can’t blame them really. Do I care? Not a jot. I am here to do whatever I need to do to perform.

Quick chat with Jill. She reminds me that Alan beat me at Great Malvern when I really should have won the match. Then its back to the airbnb for a shower, breakfast and a chat to my hosts.

Read the paper and generally not think about tennis for a while. On leaving for my match I confirm that in the unlikely scenario that I should win that I would be able to stay an extra night, which they confirm.

Back at the tennis centre, run through the now familiar Covid protocols. Declaration form, temperature check, current health questions. Cleared to play. The rain is sheeting down outside. Warm up in the long corridor behind the courts with its red painted floor and flourescent lights, as it appears to be the only place in the centre suitable. Report to the referee and assigned Court 1, next to viewing area and what might be considered the show court. Didn’t really want that. Open the door to the courts and the sounds of matches in progress, the thwack of balls, the grunts of effort is much more apparent this side of the glass. Feel good. Game on.

The score was 4-6, 1-6 and my opponent sporting said that it was closer than the score suggests. Yes and no would be the answer to that. Yes there were some close tussles in the first set that led me to believe that I could do better in the second. However I never really pressed with any consistency and I missed the two volleys I was presented with.

The scores were 0-2, 1-2, 1-4, 4-4, 4-6 / 0-2, 1-2, 1-6. Had points for 5-5 in the first and saved  a couple of set points at 4-5, before succumbing. In the second I had points for 2-4, but once this opportunity had gone the last two games passed without incident. Once again I finished the match with an unconvincing backhand into the net from his serve.

I stand still momentarily, looking down at the court, this is not the performance I dreamt of and which I know is in there. Elements of frustration. Opportunity missed. No further chance to play here this time, that is  a shame. Compose. Lift head, walk slowly to net, say well played and fist bump at the net.

There’s not too long to wallow as the next players will be along shortly. Just time to sit on the bench, bury my head in my towel while I wipe away the sweat. Stuff kit and shoes into my tennis bag. Brief chat with opponent and the court supervisor.

Shortly afterwards standing in the spectator area, with a cup of tea. I was afforded the recognition of ‘tricky opponent’ by his watching friend. I wanted so much more.

Naked in the empty changing room. A pile of damp kit on the floor. Disappointment. Some pride at honest effort. Feeling less out of my depth this time. Shower. Get dressed. Rejoin the  spectators. More tea and cake. Chat to some players I recognise from previous events.

Its hard to be objective about losing in the immediate hours post match. There’s the knowledge that I did not serve very well, not really hitting the serve, too conservative and too many double faults, numbering around six at a guess. Then there were an unusually high number of balls just long on the baseline.

There were some positives. Short balls were dealt with pretty well, getting to them in good time and being decisive, putting them away for winners. Too few and far between to alter the course of the match though. I defended and hustled well to keep the ball in play at times. Technically there was an improvement in my sliced backhand, now fairly consistently landing deep and low, bringing a  weaker return. Managed a backhand down the line passing shot from near the service box off his short ball. If there was one shot to take away it would be a forehand down the line passing shot from deep in my own court, picking up a low ball with enough power, control and spin to elude the closing opponent at the net.

Opponent served very accurately with top spin and balls to my backhand where most often high and difficult to handle. For my part I was too passive on return of serve, presenting too many half court balls.

Mon 21st

Here in Wrexham the wind is howling this morning.

Slept well. Reaching a better balance on yesterday’s match. Still disappointed but time to move on. Long journey home in Storm Franklin this morning.

The radio in the car is still not working, so I am alone with my thoughts. Retracing yesterday’s match certainly. Also what is the value of a tennis match. Especially a losing one. Especially now I have set a pattern of losing at this tournament’s first hurdle and what is starting to feel like  a pattern of underperformance.

Objectivity is so hard to analyse when I am wrapped up in  a match. There is the battle in front of you and the emotions that go with that. Did I actually think about tactics , during the heat of the match?

What of retirement? Will hitting tennis balls over a net still be enough when it becomes  a main thing, when the structure of the day is changed with no 9-5 to punctuate the working week. The weekend just gone, when I mentioned that I was retiring, I received a view from one player that his game really progressed once he could dedicate more time to it, playing three times per week and training also. I should have asked more about his routine.

In total with diversions, roadworks and a wrong turn and three short stops it was 8.5 hours back to Cornwall. Time alone to think, reflect and look forwards. It’s a rare opportunity and it is surprisingly enjoyable for the most part, except  a bit in the middle when I was a little bored and a bit of musical accompaniment would have been welcome.

At the centre of thoughts is the need for a better performance, more representative of what happens on the practice court. Time to reappraise practice as well. Retirement should open up fresh options to play more singles.

I can only describe what is happening as a feeling of over caution and a slight tension that is stopping the racket really moving freely. I can feel a slight tension, like driving a car with the handbrake slightly on, that little bit of resistance just holding me back. On the positive side I was more competitive on this occasion at least when the match stood at 4-4. I did think anything can happen from here. Points for 5-5 and taking one of them would have been interesting.

Ultimately, I  could not summon up the player from the practice court. He sat courtside and kept his tracksuit on, though he did stir briefly after a particularly good down the line passing shot. Maybe this was to be the moment? He stood briefly in expectation that he might be required more consistently, but no. No it was’n’t to be, false alarm. Sit down, keep the tracksuit on.

It is a priviledge to be able to do this stuff, whatever the outcome. I heard today that the man I helped off the floor, after a fall in his bedroom not three weeks ago died over the weekend. He was so grateful to be helped into a chair, while he waited for the ambulance. I would never have thought he was in his last few weeks of life. Thoughts to him and his family.

My brothers dog has lost the use of its legs. If you have ever owned  a dog, you know how much a part of the family they become. Time ticks along for us all.

So this week my final week of full time work, its time to be grateful, revel in my own good health, do what I can to secure it for tomorrow, play more tennis as that is what makes me happy. Nothing more ambitious than that at the moment, stepping forth across life’s second to last big moment.

The post match drive home. It’s the opportunity to indulge in some fast food. The service is poor, the bacon/egg sandwich is thrown together, the coffee is serviceable.

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