At just after 3pm we step onto the Wimbledon grass to play in the British Seniors Grasscourt Championships! It does’n’t get any better than this!
Fri 5th August
Accepted into the British Seniors Grasscourt Championships at Wimbledon for the men’s doubles with partner Nigel from London.
Weds 10th August
White shirt for Wimbledon arrives. Facebook shows young Cornish players competing at Wimbledon this week. Anticipation growing.
Details are everything – enquire about practice courts at Wimbledon on Sunday morning.
7.30am morning singles hit. Another hot sunny day is on the way, so the shade from the trees is very welcome even if it does make seeing the ball a bit tricky as the shade retreats. Failed to put together a double practice as it seems everyone is on holiday.
Late evening restring of racket. I could and should have done this a day or two ago. Its 9pm gone before I find time to wrestle the heavy stringing machine from its storage shelf and set it up. What happened next never happened before. The string snapped just before finish of the mains. Exactly what happened escapes me; a strange noise followed by a loud bang as the string snapped. More haste less speed come to mind as the main cause. Calmness faltering. Much later than intended, certainly gone 11pm I make it to bed.
Early start, on the road that will eventually lead to Wimbledon just after 6am. I have agreed to pick up a bed and two bodyboards from a friend’s dad’s house near Bristol on my way. It’s a fair exchange in return for a night in his spare room in London. On arrival near Bristol, I am greeted with “what would l like to drink” and “the toilet is through there, I know what its like on a long journey!”
I remind friend’s dad that it is 39 years since I last visited for his son’s 21st birthday and say I am surprised to be invited back so soon! Ho! ho! He says he remembers it well. Yikes! Then again he does want the bed off the premises. Needs must I guess.
We share tea and biscuits and put the world to rights before tackling – what looks like it will be a tight fit – getting the dismantled bed into the car.
With some manipulation and re-arrangement of everything else in the car including seats, we squeeze everything in. It takes several goes to get the trunk to close. My tennis bag is now riding in the passenger seat. We are just congratulating ourselves on a job well done, when a message arrives from said friend enquiring of progress and asking “Any chance of fitting my tri bike in?”
Dad’s know their sons like no one else. We fall about with laughter standing next to the fully loaded car. Composure regained and suitably ‘you must be joking’ message returned its time to depart.
With a mattress looking over my shoulder, next stop is the Limpsfield Club for doubles practice with my doubles partner Nigel, ready for Wimbledon. This will be the first time we have met.
Three hours later I arrive in good time at the impressive Limpsfield Club, the M25 was kind to me. Time to get changed and warm up a little.
As I am I expect the new face, I feel it proper to wait to be identified rather than approach every arrival at the club with ‘are you Nigel’ However there is a trade off equation between anticipation and anxiety based on the passing of time. At 2.15pm I send Nigel a message to enquire his wherabouts. Having reduced the likelyhood of him just being late as we were due to play doubles, and there are no other ready to play players to be seen, just those relaxing after their exertions.
My two thoughts are he’s got cold feet and decided not to play at Wimbledon – probably unlikely. Or I am at the wrong club! I have previous for going to the wrong place for a meeting, though it was a garden centre not a tennis club. Quick check on phone to make sure that there is not a similarly named club, where three rather disgruntled tennis players might be waiting. Nope it’s the right club.
Nick the manager kindly checks the court bookings and confirms that there is no booking in Nigel’s name, though not impossible on a quiet Saturday afternoon that he might just turn up to play.
Hmm, what to do? Do they have a practice wall? Nick the manger confirms that they do and shows me its whereabouts tucked away round a corner beside one of the padel courts. First impressions are not hopeful as the wall is in fact a wall. Yes a wall, like a house wall, made with bricks and mortar, so not a smooth surface at all. This will be interesting and expecting strange angled bounces back from the wall I tentatively offer the first ball to the wall. The wall returns it true! Most interesting.
Part way though practice Nigel calls, to say he thought our Sunday morning practice arranged at Wimbledon superseded the arrangement for today’s practice. A miscommunication, no one to blame, just one of those things. We both laugh nervously and agree to meet early at Wimbledon next day. Nothing can knock me out of my stride today.
The wall plays pretty true and proves to be a more than able practice partner. I run through forehands and backhands and combinations plus very short balls for feel. From low expectations at the start this wall has surpassed expectations This wall in fact has two big advantages. Firstly, the wall for hitting against and painted green is in fact part of the clubhouse wall and so extends wider and higher than purpose made hitting walls. Secondly the wall is set as part of a full sized half court. The advantage of this is that I do not have to fear missing the wall and that it is possible to play full strokes against this wall. After 45 minutes in the hot sun, I am pretty sweaty and have been able to hit many balls as well as practice serving. Top marks to the wall. Looks can be deceiving.
Shower, coffee and outrageously sized piece of cake to follow, before squeezing back into my car with the bed, bodyboards, my kit and overnight bags. Just ninety more minutes to destination and delivery of the bed. It’s early evening, just 13 hours after leaving home.
Probably not the journey to Wimbledon that Rafa, Novak, Roger or Andy would experience. For me it’s good as the long day, travel and other activities have prevented me from over analysing, my debut at Wimbledon tomorrow.
It’s a hot night in London, the like we don’t get in Cornwall. Sleeping on top of the bed with the windows open. I sleep well but awake before 6am, drifting into consciousness on my big day. The biggest day of my tennis life. Today I am playing tennis at Wimbledon!
I feel surprisingly calm. Lying and scrolling and contemplating, idly for a little while. Eventually and without hurry I shower and get dressed. Indecision then about how best to pack for the big day. I opt for everything into the one tennis bag, which takes a little organisation, though preferable to carrying a second bag I decide.
Shoes. Which ones to wear. The all white rule is being strictly enforced on the tennis courts. I do not want to have to walk from the referees office to the courts in my pimply white grass court shoes. Normally I would wear my orange running shoes to the court. Opting this time for a pair of white tennis shoes, that I never play tennis in as they are a half size too big. I have had them for years, with no recollection about how I came to purchase them. They literally get a walk on part today.
Interestingly after the indecision of the bag and the shoes the tasks become routine, almost automatic. Eat breakfast, get in car, set sat nav and drive to Wimbledon. The streets are deserted in London at just after 8.15am this sunny August Sunday morning. It’s already pleasantly warm. For all the quieteness, the traffic on the road is definitely upmarket, Tesla, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Ferrari and a Rolls Royce. My Ford is enjoying the company. I squirt the windows and give the wipers a flick as we sit in exhalted company waiting for the lights to change.
I pass Southfields tube station and drive along the near deserted road, I have only ever walked along on route to the Wimbledon Championships. I draw up outside Wimbledon Gate 1D and the security guard indicates to pull into the ticketing area. My one and only doubt of the day. Could it all be a sad joke, a hoax of some sort? The issuer of the wristbands that gets you into the grounds proper, is going through the list for a second and now a third time. Yikes! I repeat my surname ensuring that I have said Thomas and not Borg!
Now we are moving. I show my wristband and the barrier is raised. I am driving into the grounds of Wimbledon! Wow! I am externally concentrating on the directions I have been given as I drive up the incline and past Number one court on my left. The understated A Board sign in green with white writing and an arrow says ‘British Grasscourt Seniors Championships’ Inside I am purring with pride. Me at Wimbledon to play in the British Grasscourt Seniors Championships. Wow! Concentrate, don’t want to mess up and find myself on Henman Hill or worse still having to reverse out from Number One court.
I am early, just a couple of other cars in the car park. And just like behind the scenes at any club are the materials and machines required to maintain these facilities plus discarded bits and pieces. The ordinariness is strangely reassuring. Walking in through gate 19 I am greeted cheerily and bid to have a good day. Is that spring in my step I detect!
Pausing at the first court I come to, I drink in the peacefulness and the lush green of the courts, like thick pile carpet save for the wear at the baselines. There is no one else in sight, it is already very warm and the air still. A perfect summer’s day.
This place is familiar, yet I have no idea of where to go, stood outside Aorangi Pavilion the base for the tournament. I once spent several days here accompanying my son as a junior in the then Road to Wimbledon competition as an under 14 player some nine years ago. As I say its familiar in the broadest sense, though the finer details escape me.
I do remember the pride of seeing my son on the grass of Wimbledon. The absolute fantastic attitude of Tim Henman and Paul Hutchins. Paul Hutchins – was the Tournament Director for the Road to Wimbledon competition –
He excelled as an administrator and was twice appointed Head of British Tennis at the LTA, was Tournament Director for Nottingham and established the extremely important Road to Wimbledon programme and tournament which is not just played out in Britain, but in Asia as well.
I only knew him over those few days in small routine interactions. Including allowing me access to the changing rooms so that I could go for a run and shower afterwards. With the many things he had to deal with and my request being non tennis related, just a hanger on dad. I was surprised when he asked me later how my run had been. In my experience it is in these unseen moments when you know the measure of a person. Great respect and I remember him fondly today. Very sad that he has since passed away.
The same respect is due to Tim Henman an ambassador for the Road to Wimbledon tournament who I remember took to the court for a mass coaching session with some of the UKs best juniors and a group photo on Henman Hill – where else! It was great to see, but the real reason I remember his presence is different.
The tournament had concluded. Our son had won a trophy and we wanted to commemorate the win with a memorable photo. The front door to the club has the words above it ‘The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club’ and seemed to be a most appropriate place. The place was deserted so we had time to take a few photos and were just returning the glass trophy carefully to its box, when Tim Henman appeared. Without hesitation he asked if we would like to see inside and view the Wimbledon men’s singles trophy. You bet! He absolutely did not have to do that, but he took time out and we took a second set of photos with Tim our son and the Wimbledon Men’s singles trophy. Unseen moments, great respect.
Aorangi Pavilion is the base for the tournament, home to the referees office, refreshments and changing rooms. There are faces I recognise. I chat with Peter who got into the singles as a late call up, due to a withdrawl, who had to stop en route to buy white kit for the occasion. The experience of seeking out white kit is repeated in several conversations.
Having secured practice balls from the referee and confirmed which courts to use for practice I am waiting for my doubles partner Nigel. There is a certain look when two people looking for each other finally meet. ‘Are you Nigel?’ I ask the first person to appear and of course he is. Introductions, good mornings and within minutes we are on court tying the laces to our grass court shoes.
Rolling that first ball over the net as we start with short balls into the service court, feels great. The grass is so lush and the bounce perfect. The surroundings become secondary to concentrating on hitting the ball smoothly. I am determined not to be the first one to hit a ball into the net. It is another hot day. We conclude practice with a few serves after about 30 minutes, enough time to get a feel for the ball and familiarity with the court without leaving all our energy on the practice court.
Coffee and conversation follows. It’s a big day for both of us in our tennis lives. Most likely a one off experience, which we commit to enjoying to the full. We discuss important aspects, such as which sides to play, how we want to play the match, whether to use hand signals or not on serve. It feels like we are in tune. Now all we have to do is wait.
Our match is scheduled for 2pm. Wimbledon proves not to be immune from long matches skewing the schedule. I check with the referee, we are 4th match on. Difficult to judge things exactly. It feels like the right time to visit the bathroom, put on my match shirt and warm up.
We find a shady strip in the shadow of the Aorangi Pavilion, more prominent than I would ideally like. I jog gently and run through my by now familiar routine. Raise the heart rate, take the body through a range of motions and play some shadow strokes. Nigel is doing likewise. Now we wait while keeping moving gently.
Our names are called over the PA system asking us to report to the referees office. Time to play. I am aware that I have no nerves today, just anticipation and a readiness to do my best. I hope Nigel feels likewise, it’s not something I think to ask.
At just after 3pm we step onto the Wimbledon grass to play in the British Seniors Grasscourt Championships! It does’n’t get any better than this!
To be continued ………