Big decision, injury and Covid all play a part

A beautiful sunny morning, with only a light breeze. Most other courts in use as well. It’s how I would imagine a perfect day to begin.

This blog features the build up and matches at the Felixstowe ITF 200 tournament in June 2022. Told in real time, based on extracts from my training diary.

Mon 13th

Is it or is’n’t it going to be OK, my arm that is? I am slightly nervous about this morning’s lesson and take 2 x ibuprofen as insurance.

Woody remembered my sore arm issues and we spend the lesson working exclusively in the service boxes, concentrating on hitting the ball effortlessly and letting the racket do the work. By all accounts my backhand is progressing well, with good amounts of topspin, though I tend to still muscle the ball a little on the forehand, so we work on developing an effortless forehand.

There is something in the way my backhand contacts the ball that is even impressing me, loads of topspin and with control back to Woody’s feet. This is the most control I have ever felt on the backhand. The forehand takes more work. I address the ball differently and I cannot quite work out why. As the session progresses the forehand improves, and with no feeling of pain in the arm, which is very good.

After working on each stroke individually, Woody begins to mix up the delivery, shorter, deeper, higher, lower, left and right. I am moving well and with good rebound from my legs, this is encouraging. We discuss, the benefit of box jumps and I explain my set up at home, consisting of a stack of concrete blocks. I dismiss the suggestion that the set up sounds a bit dangerous and that I should buy or make something more appropriate. At the end of the session I am breathing heavily with the effort and pleased with progress and lack of pain in my arm. I message Woody afterwards to say great session, thank you!

I have been working on strengthening my arms to combat the injury as well as specifically my triceps as I think they are not as strong as needed for a really effective one handed backhand. Today I am feeling the benefit, there is better control on the racket throughout the stroke. It is so encouraging when I can feel effort turn into results this quickly.

I almost consider myself lazy today with just the one hour on court.

Tues 14th

I am having a dither this morning. With the grass court season just around the corner. Should I invest in a specialist pair of shoes and if so, should I hedge my bets and go for an omni shoe (dual purpose) or go the whole hog for a grass court shoe? A grass court shoe that you should only wear on the grass, or the pimples will wear down quickly.

Hang the expense. I decide to back myself and go for the grass court shoe on 24hr delivery. If I don’t back myself “who will?” I think to myself while I get breakfast.

9am practice. A little tired from the DIY but otherwise I am well.

A beautiful sunny morning, with only a light breeze. Most other courts in use as well. It’s how I would imagine a perfect day to begin.

Trying to continue the work from yesterday’s lesson, letting the racket do the work. It is more difficult from the back of the court, though the racket is doing more of the work, especially on the forehand. This looseness also transfers later on to the serve.

Weds 15th

Yesterday after much deliberation about which size to order for my grass court shoes and reading that the Head shoe was true to size, I placed my order. Today as promised the parcel arrived. Oh! the anticipation. Opening the box, gently moving aside the protective tissue paper, a pristine white perfect tennis shoe emerges. I hold the shoe in my hand, inspecting it from all angles and taking in the look, feel and smell. Removing the paper stuffed into the toe box and loosening the laces, I place my foot into the shoe. You guessed it, they were too small, my toes are tight up against the front of the shoe. True to size? Reordered a half size bigger and re-packaged the small ones for return.

So hard to fit everything into the day, now that the Queens tennis tournament is on the TV. Finally roused myself late afternoon to begin gym workout.

Thinking about my improved movement on court and what felt like more zip in my serve with less effort. This could well be to do with the work I did last week. Adding more reps to my upper body work and side lunges to my lower body work. It is exciting when effort turns to results so quickly.

My workouts frequently finish off with a series of box jumps, and for the purpose I use a stack of concrete building blocks as discussed with Woody only on Monday. Not the traditional soft padded box you will find in the gym. It’s a more home made affair. I was just finishing off the last set of jumps up onto the blocks. Not unusually I was thinking about small margins of improvement and trying to gain extra elevation, with the thought of maybe adding an extra block. All is going well – until the third set fourth jump, – why wouldn’t it? I have been using the blocks for some time now. On this occasion, my toe catches the top block and the blocks collapse forwards, crunching heavily into the decorative arrangement of large pine cones. Fortunately I am able to respond and jump back to my starting position.

Reset the blocks and try again. Again my toe catches the top block. This time I am unable to jump back and as the blocks topple forwards, I topple with them! It’s over in an instant. I am lying in a heap, in a bed of pine cones amongst the fallen concrete blocks, arms and legs at unusual angles. That hurt! I move gingerly, feeling each limb for damage. The visible damage is grazes to both arms and my right knee. Its been an awkward fall. Later I notice some discomfort in my left shoulder and right wrist. For now, I reassemble the blocks and complete the last few reps! Very fortunate not to come off worse. Initial hilarity at my misfortune, later gives way to concern that the fall could have been much worse. Indeed!

Thurs 16th

Two hours practice on the grass at Perran Tennis, Perranporth. The courts are far from perfect. Still it is great to step onto grass tennis courts once more. In the first half hour we could not stop laughing as the ball bounced erratically. Such fun. Then after a while we got some half decent practice on a very warm and still morning, which was great.

Initially I have pain in my left groin which is painful on moving for backhands, it eases as I get warmer. My left shoulder however, remains sore throughout a consequence of yesterday’s box jumps no doubt!

The 2nd pair of grass shoes arrived this afternoon, a half size bigger. Much better.

Fri 17th

Tired today. The Wimbledon ambition feels a distant prospect at the moment.

Sat 18th

Rest day. Striking the balance to be in peak condition for Felixstowe ITF tournament. My natural response is to do more. When in fact the sensible thing I think, given how physical the shed refurbishment work is will be to do less. Its not an easy balance to strike in my mind.

Sun 19th

Watched Berrettini win at Queens against Krajinovic. Very good match. Oh to play like that!

The Felixstowe ITF 200 has seeded me at 4, my first ever ITF seeding. I have drawn John my practice partner, as my first match. All that way to play each other. However, at least one of us will go through to the next round.

Mon 20th

8am session with Woody. The overnight rain is clearing and the sky is brightening. Looking forward to a good session. We work mostly short in the service boxes as last week, but I didn’t feel the ball as well as last week. Key learning point is to keep the ball on the strings for as long as possible

Hit to follow. Wind picked up to make the conditions difficult. Way too many errors from me.

Tues 21st

Solid two hour hit with Tom

Weds 22nd

Travel to Felixstowe. Leave at 8.30am, and arrive just after 5pm.

Satnav serves us well and after nearly 400 miles with only minor adjustment for one wrong turning (human error) we arrive safely at our hotel. Felixstowe Tennis Club is a handy ten minute walk away. Over the next three days the car sat nav takes us to and returns us from the tennis club a different way each time. And neither of us can agree on the best route without sat nav guidance.

More immediately we strike out to find the tennis club on foot, using our phones for guidance of course. When we reach the sea front we know we have gone wrong. Looking up from the seafront, I can see the tennis club floodlights. To get nearer we follow a path uphill, which says ‘residents only’, to the rear of what turns out to be the old hospital, now converted into desirable residences. Predictably there is no path through to the tennis club, just the wall around the grounds of the old hospital.

I scramble up the wall and pop my head over the top. “Excuse me” I say to the slightly surprised tennis coach who turns his head to see who has interrupted his lesson. “which is the best way to get to the tennis club?” It is clear from the reply, that he is not used to fielding this type of question in the middle of a tennis lesson, and much less from a man peering over the wall at him. “Err you could just climb over the wall. (not a serious suggestion) Probably best to go round. Take a right, then first right and the club will be on your right” “Thanks” I say as he turns back to his lesson. A few seconds later we are over the wall, standing on the grass strip between the wall and the rear of the tennis courts. My knee still sore from its training accident sustains a further painful graze. As sat nav would say “you have reached your destination” We make our way to the clubhouse and make our arrival known.

The setting looks as inviting as I remember it from last year.

Fish and chips on the seafront by the pier serves as a delicious evening meal with little fuss.

Thurs 23rd

Maybe it was the long journey yesterday, maybe it was playing the person I shared the journey with and whom I practice with most weeks, or maybe it was the lack of porridge for breakfast. Whatever the reason, energy is not what I want it to be this morning.

Match time approaches. I am trying hard to set my mind to task without 100 % success. The match is scrappy, not helped by the strengthening wind. I win. It feels unsatisfactory.

Doubles. We lose to Seppo and Marku, very nice guys from Helsinki. 1-6, 1-6. I take a few moments to gather my thoughts before following the others to the clubhouse. I hate losing! Time to clear my head, which just takes a few minutes. We share a drink and have a pleasant chat on the clubhouse balcony.

Fri 24th

I want to go one better today and get to the final. I have seen my opponent play from a distance. I concluded that it was hard to make any objective assessment.

Walking to the club. Trying to settle my mind to the task. Sometimes the mind just has a mind of its own. And so it is today, settling on anything and everything but the task at hand. I turn right into Brook Lane, who will certainly be a central character if I were ever to write a crime thriller. Nice houses round here. “Why is it so difficult to focus today?”

The white lines are being freshly marked on the courts when I arrive. I am immediately struck by the concentration and attention to detail being applied to the task. A tennis court being freshly prepared for me to play on – inspiring! I am drawn to chat to the groundsman, and on parting he leaves me with “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” and adds “you will smash it today!”

The wind is stronger today. There is in truth not  a lot to write about today’s match. I failed in all respects to adapt to the wind and the courts and the score of 0-6, 2-6 was a fair reflection of the match. There was one particular, off the frame hit from mid court, which skewed sideways at an acute angle and dropped about a foot over the net, which let me know, it was not going to be my day.

In truth the very first game set the tone. Opponent opens the match serving.

Double fault. Love  – fifteen.

Return into the net off the end of my racket frame. Fifteen all.

Return the serve and net the second shot. Thirty – fifteen.

Manage to skew the return of serve wide, bouncing on my side of the court off the racket frame. Forty – fifteen.

Return the serve into the net. Game and 1-0.

Probably some of the most difficult conditions I have played in. The combination of wind and grass courts, making it difficult to time the ball with any consistency. I try and stroke the ball over the net, it falls short. Try and hit through and the ball goes long. A repeating pattern that I cannot escape. I am either hurried in the shot as the ball shoots through, or reaching forward at the last moment for a ball that has stopped dead in the wind, doesn’t bounce and nestles gently into the grass.

I wonder what it takes for the referee to issue a warning. I cry loudly “what the f***!” to the wind, on a couple of occasions. I am not alone. I hear similar utterances from other courts. After one particularly excrutiating point, I send the ball into vertical orbit. I hit it straight up I suppose intending that it would come straight down. (Who really knows in those moments of madness) With the wind behind me, it comes down in the hedge at the back of the courts. I am slightly embarrassed to see my opponent retrieving the ball from the hedge. And to shout an apology down the court would be pointless at this moment. If I were my opponent I would be quite serene about it as he appears to be, as you know there can only be one outcome.

There was one brief moment of hope, holding for 2-2 in the second set, but it was brief.

Did I inadvertently sabotage my own efforts? Should I have played with the newly strung racket delivered just before the start? There is something irresistible about a newly strung racket. It was definitely tighter than I get on my own stringing machine at the same tension. Then in hindsight I knew it would be and I could tell this from the first stroke. Why on earth did I not at some point change rackets?

The grass court shoes were great, however conditions were dry and any decent shoes would have been fine. I clearly didn’t smash it today, but I was prepared.

Now a couple of hours later, showered and changed. Eating cake and drinking tea on the balcony. A great view of the matches in progress. The courts looks benign and almost welcoming from up here. No longer the tormentor of earlier. Did I imagine those difficulties?

Sat 25th

Retrace the long journey home. Sat nav steering us around the worst of the M25 hold ups. Arrive home and feel like I have a cold coming on. Test positive for Covid.

Sun 26th

Feeling poorly with Covid.

ITF Rankings – 1st July

GB 57

World 604 up 433 places

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