Last act of the summer season – Malvern 100 Masters

It’s a really enjoyable session, just when I was thinking I might be losing my enjoyment for the game a little after a few weeks away. 

Mon 3rd October

Today’s practice cancelled as we have to take one of the dogs to the vet. Maybe missing practice is for the best as I am quite stiff and arm sore from working on boarding the loft all weekend. As I have a further practice scheduled tomorrow, all should be fine. 

Tues 4th 

Today’s practice cancelled due to practice partner having to visit A&E with his son. I think of trying to rearrange with someone else, but the pressing job of boarding the loft is calling as well as having to go and collect further trial contact lenses from Truro. 

Weds 5th 

My arm aches  a little this morning first thing. I am feeling neutral about travelling to Malvern for this week’s tournament. Preparation has been virtually non-existent.

In a way this feels like a tournament too far and maybe I should have finished the season with the recent Newquay ITF event. 

There is also the issue of playing in my contact lenses and this week’s practices were intended to give the lenses  a good try out. The dilemma now is whether to push ahead with playing in my lenses after only one on court session or revert to glasses. I know in myself I can be over cautious, so my instinct is to play in the lenses and use this morning’s coaching session as an additional opportunity. That’s the plan. 

With my milk bottle bottom prescription it takes time to adapt. Glasses to lenses or lenses to glasses. If it’s lenses it has to be with confidence and commitment, otherwise I leave myself that chink of doubt. An ideal excuse if I play poorly. Tried and tested or take an unknown step forwards? 

The practice in lenses goes well and I am definitely seeing the ball better on the backhand side. Service practice goes well also. It’s a really enjoyable session, just when I was thinking I might be losing my enjoyment for the game a little after a few weeks away. 

Evening. After an uneventful drive and settled into a pleasant two bedroom apartment a short walk from the tennis club, I am on the case for a morning practice court again.

I am a little irritated. No response to my earlier enquiry to know if and at what time practice courts might be available in the morning. The club website or social media gives me no indication as to the time they might open in the morning. I try ringing the club but no answer. I find another e-mail address and enquire again. 

While I await a reply my mind turns to tomorrow’s match. The future is not yet written. Say it. Say it. Now what do you need to do to believe it? And to execute in that way? Something about playing every point as if it were the last of the match floats past. Smooth strokes, prepare in plenty of time and follow through. Go with no expectation, except to play well. 

Only 15 mins since I sent my last e-mail and to my surprise there is a reply. There is the possibility of booking an acrylic court. Reply to request match court practice on the astro turf before play begins for the day in preference to acrylic. Await reply. Shortly there is confirmation that a practice court on match surface will be available from 8.30am tomorrow morning. Adding not expecting the courts to be busy at that time. 

Suits me. The less practice other players have the better as far as I am concerned.

Thurs 6th  

It’s a short walk to the club. I pick up three conkers on route, from the many that litter the leafy street. It just feels like something I should do. Why are they lying here? Are there no children to scoop them all up, or more probably, games of conkers have been outlawed. I am only mildly surprised not to see a notice on a nearby wall quoting a local byelaw, that the collecting and use of conkers for the purpose of playing conkers is now illegal. 

8.30am predictably we are the first two on court for practice, though closely followed by two others. A clean fresh morning, the astro  a little damp and the ball skidding a little. This feels good to get a feel for the courts and hit a few balls for  30 minutes or so.  

After practice there is time to kill. We watch the start of the first matches and then exit for coffee in town at a small café. The idea being to then head back to the nearby apartment for a rest. On such a nice day, a walk through town has more appeal than rest for me.

I find myself unusually drawn to books outside a charity shop, arranged neatly in cardboard boxes and purchase a couple as well as earmark a couple of other possibles in another charity shop.

On the walk back to the club, I collect three more conkers for luck. Matches are delayed and my 2.30pm start becomes 3.30pm ish. I am unhelpfully told by a passing player that I have an easy first round draw. 

Just before my match, I warm up for the second time, it’s a bit of a limp effort, but I reason with myself that the benefits of my earlier warm up are still with me. My legs especially my calves feel pretty lifeless. Maybe I should have taken that rest? 

I had been feeling a little bit of imposter syndrome, thinking about the times I had been seeded at an ITF event. This is the third time I think I have been seeded and I have yet to make my seeded position. And so it is that I succumb meekly to the oldest person in the draw, he tells me, at 74 years of age. 

Movement is slow, I am hitting the ball late and erratically. Credit opponent for constructing some decent rallies, but also recall how many short balls I contributed, as well as long and wide and into the net. All in all a very dispiriting experience. 

Positives. Mentally I kept trying to do the right thing, make the strokes smooth and keep the ball deep. On occasions when I kept the ball deep I generally won the point, though this was rare. I rallied to save a few match points, even accepting my opponent’s generosity of playing a clearly wide (15cm or more) ball at match point. I briefly thought about telling him the ball was out, decide against it and get my just desserts two points later. 1-6, 3-6. A stinker of a performance. 

Today no outward frustrations apart from one loud ‘Mike!’ as I flumped another tame forehand into the net. Even sucked it all up by the time I reached the net to offer a pleasant well done and not through clenched teeth. I am getting a bit better at losing, at least superficially.

We talk after the match, over a coffee for me and a beer for him, briefly about the match. Then mostly about a joint love of running. Ron Hill the acclaimed British distance runner was a common touch point for his 52 year streak of running every day and his excellent running brand.

Later. Sitting on the slatted bench in the changing room, populated only by two squash players talking about computers, I take a moment to reflect. There are extenuating circumstances such as having had little practice and the decision to play in my contact lenses for the first time in about 30 years I think. This lightens the load a little. I try to think of it as the beginning of a new chapter and not the end of the book. This works superficially to some extent.

On the walk back to the apartment I pick up three conkers for? well out of habit really. The thought that they might bring luck is long gone.

Fri 7th 

I sleep fitfully the loop tape of failure keeps circulating and nudges me part awake every so often. 

To the consolation. Rain is forecast so we agree an early start before the rain descends and once the acrylic courts the venue for consolation matches have dried. 

There are brief moments of encouragement before eventually settling on second place. 6-3, 2-6, 0-1 (5). The gap between intent and execution perfectly illustrated by five unforced errors to go 0-5 in the match tie break. Again I kept trying to do the right thing, trying to hit the ball and play with purpose. A well played forehand for  a winner to bring the score to 4-8 was a good example. A netted forehand while trying to put away a short ball brought the match to its conclusion. It was almost as if the match had been written before we played and we were just following a pre written script. Perhaps not the exact shots, as some ad libbing was allowed, but the eventual outcome. 

As I was near the net on the final point, it was only a few short steps to shake hands and say well done. Flat would a description of how I felt. Not even the rage of defeat present today. Totally pissed off would be a more accurate description.

This was not the way I had wanted or envisaged ending the summer ITF season. 

In the immediate post match at the referees desk. The referee is saying something to me about, a number of players have asked if the doubles can be full sets rather than the short sets as advertised. I don’t fully take it in at the time, at not least so that I can offer a view, that comes later.

Sat 8th 

I am in spectator mode today. Time to observe and chat with fellow competitors. There are some excellent players present. 

On the practice courts I watch two women players, going through a series of warm up exercises before they hit any balls. Then they drill with purpose, practicing cross court, groundstrokes and volleys, each helping the other in turn. It’s eye catching as it is a rare sight. Later I discover it is their first ITF and they are a bit nervous and have travelled down from Lancashire for the event. 

In a men’s singles I watch a number one seed in a first set tussle. A drop shot brings his opponent hurtling forward reaching the ball to play a winner, losing his footing and sliding feet first into the net. The seed enquires of the now prone opponent if he is ok. He is. There is a pause, while he gets to his feet. Then the seed mentions that of course it is his point as his opponent hit the net in playing the stroke. I think, that is why he is the number one seed, but no. Interestingly the players turn to those watching for reassurance as there seems to be some uncertainty as to the correct course of action. I can’t quite catch the exact words exchanged, though the outcome is to play a ‘let’. I am guessing the seed being 4-3 ahead with a break feels a degree of control and confidence. He goes on to lose the match I see in the results later on. 

The scheduling has been changed and it has been decided that the doubles event rather than be short sets as advertised will be long sets. The decision has been taken I am informed after discussion with some of the players. This was mentioned to me yesterday shortly after my singles defeat, but I didn’t really process the information. The folly of the decision is that some players, if not most will be playing a singles followed by two doubles matches today. Totally unneccessary in my view as the doubles could have started a day earlier if it was going to be long sets, then it would have been one doubles per day.  There is grumbling amongst the players I speak to, so it is unclear who was in favour of long sets.

I mention the situation to the referee and how it has caused us a difficulty. I inform that we will withdraw from the doubles due to the inconsiderate scheduling and not wanting to pay for an extra night’s stay. I secretly think that our group is the stronger of the two and chances of progression are slim as is the likelyhood of  a good thumping, my partner having already played  a singles in the morning. 

We have a four hour drive, so depart for lunch, guided by google maps to a local pub. 

“Good afternoon, are you serving food” opening line to the barman as it is not obvious. “Yes, she’s in the garden having a fag. I will go and ask her what’s on the menu!” The woman appears and informs that there is a choice of chilli or chicken curry. Two times chilli and drinks are ordered. 

During the ordering process I notice a small blackboard propped on the bar with the menu chalked on and indeed chilli and chicken curry are the main options. Next to the menu is a round plastic food tub, with a slot in the lid. The paper sign attached simply says ‘contribute to Bob’s funeral’ 

We sit outside in the warm October sunshine and enjoy a perfectly good chilli with salad. I wonder if Bob is dead or if maybe he calls in every friday for a pint and to collect the money from the tub as down payments on his future inevitable funeral. I guess I will never know. RIP Bob.

It’s a long drive home. I feel we need something to distract us from our recent tennis performances. A book from the charity shop called ‘The Little Book of Thunks – 260 questions to make your brain go ouch! might just do the trick.

None of the questions are about tennis, thankfully. Once we are on the M5 and the journey is straightforward I offer up the first thunk ‘what colour would a zebra be if you took its stripes off?’ Over the next hour or so we make our way through many such questions. They provide a puzzling, debating, arguing and occasional hilarious distraction from our tennis selves. 

And I offer up my own thunk ‘Am I still a tennis player when not on the tennis court?’ Discuss

I am home just in time to greet our evening visitors. It’s good to catch up and tennis is mentioned only briefly in passing.

The summer season 2022 has been put to bed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *