ITF Seniors Welsh Open, Rhiwbina Tennis Club, Cardiff. September 2020

One player’s perspective

It was not my intention to play at the ITF Welsh Open. That all changed one morning in early September, when my phone lit up with the suggestion ‘Fancy a trip to Cardiff?’. Browsing the ITF website, I scrolled down to find the ITF Welsh Open.

Post lockdown my tennis had been inconsistent and uninspired. In truth it all felt too early after returning to tennis gradually since lockdown, I did not feel ready for a trip to Cardiff. I thought I would enter something later in the year and scrolled on. It was quickly apparent that the other British events running through to March 2021 as far as I could tell were all cancelled. The coronavirus having decimated the UK ITF programme.

The Welsh Open as an outdoor event was the only one still going ahead, all the others where indoors. If I was to play another IFT event – my second – before well into 2021 it would have to be this one. Entries close in just over 24 hours time.

Mind made up, finger hovering on the enter button. Hold on, best check that this fits in with family and work. Quick checks and it’s a thumbs up. In a couple of clicks my name is nestling amongst the entries. Cardiff here I come.

Interestingly next day on court I am sharper in all respects than I have been since return to play. Several people comment on how well I am playing. No doubt in my mind it’s because there is now something to play for, entering a competition has given my tennis purpose again. The power of the mind never ceases to amaze. This continues in the five more times I manage to get onto court before the event.

Anticipation indeed. It doesn’t matter who I am playing, it’s all about my own performance, I tell myself. Mostly true. I make daily forays to the ITF website, just to check that my name remains reassuringly amongst the entries. And just maybe to look at the draw. Anticipation is an under recognised benefit from entering competitions, a snip at £22.

Eventually the draw appears. I am to play the number 2 seed. Whoopee! That could be a short visit to Wales. Ah well, remember it’s all about the performance, yep I know that, however …..

Anticipation continues to build. Check equipment and empty tennis bag of accumulated debris. No dead bananas on this occasion. Which kit to wear is always a question to be answered. The choice is made easier mainly by what is not in the wash. Shirt, a choice of two I decide. Shorts, no need for the ones I use in practice with the big pockets for 3 tennis balls. Socks, longer or shorter? excluding the odd ones there are only two pairs. Both are given a pass to travel, longer ones as non-playing reserves on this occasion. A spare kit is packed along with shower gel and a change of clothes. All prepared.

The ITF return to international tennis guidelines are enlightening about playing in a Covid secure environment. Offsite guidance states that ‘Participants must avoid dining in locations to which the general public have access (e.g. local restaurants/bars)’ That could be interesting, fortunately I will take my own sandwiches! And I am only allowed to bring one member of my support team! That should not be too difficult either.

Match day. I arrive in good time. Allowing time to unwind physically from a three hour plus drive. There is a relaxed, organised atmosphere at the Rhiwbina Tennis Club, more anticipation. Introduce myself, sign in, confirm match time and walk dogs in nearby park to while away the time.

The Covid checks including self declaration form and taking my temperature are completed with a practiced air of people who know what they are doing, which is as reassuring as you would want it to be. Nearby Caerphilly has been locked down in the past day or two and the local Covid –19 infection rate is on the rise. We only half-jokingly note that this may be the one and only day we get to play.

I find a quiet space to warm up. Gentle jogging first to get the blood circulating, then stretch out, concentrating on key areas, legs, trunk and shoulders. A chorus in my head of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ the famous Liverpool football anthem, clicks the mind into gear. Ready to go. No point of travelling all this way from Cornwall if I am not going to give it my best shot.

It turns out that once on court the competition is very much as it was pre Covid, the regulations have little impact while the match is in progress, which is a relief. There are extra precautions apparent, with courtside chairs disinfected between matches and sanitiser at courtside. The referee is socially distanced in the clubhouse protected by black and yellow tape across the doorway. The match balls are placed on the veranda from where they are collected.

Players are required to sit opposite sides of the net, hand sanitising on frequent occasions and leave the venue immediately after play. No shower unless you have played two matches on the day.

In just over a couple of hours, the no 2 seed has proved to be too strong. I think I made a decent showing. Final score against of 3-6, 6-3, 1-0 (6).

There is to my surprise a consolation event. It will mean changing my work schedule and a further trip to Cardiff. In for a penny. It eventually turns out that I get three more matches and two further trips to Cardiff. This gives me a pretty good overview of the tournament.

I would definitely play here again, stay over and play additional events. The organisation has been excellent even with the extra challenge of making everything Covid secure. There is a great atmosphere and camaraderie amongst the players, many obviously meeting up with old friends. It’s also competitive and there are a couple of on court disagreements, solved amicably, mainly about line calls and scores. Probably to be expected with a senior’s tournament!

The purple coloured courts are a novelty, I really like them, though in truth I don’t notice while my matches are in progress. The Welsh dragon trophies are brilliant, unique in my experience, certainly worth coming back to try and win one of those.

I message my son, to tell him how I got on and comment that all my matches have been against old blokes! He messages back instantly, reminding me that I am one of those old blokes now! It’s a fair point!

I am re-reading what I have written above, when my phone lights up with a new message. ’Fancy a trip to Spain?’

One Player’s Perspective of the ITF Welsh Open, September 2020 by Mike Thomas.

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