January diaries 2023 – part 2

Playing with optimism, 100% all in, feeling great about my tennis. Discovering something of self, more than I expected and beyond the tennis court. 

Weds 18 – Just before 7am. I slide my feet into the pedals of the exercise bike. In front, to my right and overlooking the pool, I am aware of the older man working hard on the stepping type machine. A woman in the wheelchair sits behind. I have seen them before.  

Maureen I now know is sat in the wheelchair, as our conversation unfolded while I did my 10 minute warm up. “You’re a nice man” she said. “I like nice men”. pause “I can spot a nice man instantly, it is something I learnt from my years in the fashion industry” We chat while John does his thing on the treadmill before heading for the weights and then the pool. He aged 70 and she aged 82. I am for some reason slightly disappointed that John is only 70 years old, I wanted him to be older than that. “You’re a nice man, I like nice men” Maureen repeated again and probably for the fifth time by the time I dismounted from the bike. I wished Maureen a pleasant day and went off to seek the weights.

Lying on my back, dumbells with effort, rise in unison, reaching up to the ceiling. Thoughts of hard roads ahead. Admiration for John and his regular workouts. Thoughts of my own parents.

Home for a quick bowl of porridge, then a quick walk to the tennis club for a lesson. The familiar habits are hard to throw off. Too wristy and bringing the arm across my chest, not fully following through on the stroke. Not all the time, but enough to irritate me. Why can’t I just do it as the coach asked? The forehand remaining too flat in its trajectory. Maybe holding the racket too tight? Yes correct, loosen the wrist and hey presto we have spin. Contradictions, too wristy, not wristy enough? It’s all about timing, the right body part moving at the right time to meet the incoming ball. Here coach Mike is giving me nice playable balls, of course in matches it’s a different scenario.

I have noticed the shift from technique to building better points with more consistency. This feels like a good move. Interestingly it’s not something we have discussed, it just feels like a natural progression.

Another dimension is added to the serve today. Keeping the left foot still and at 45 degrees and rotating up and around into the court. As with every new bit of technique on the serve it feels awkward. I really am an awful server. The feeling that I have not worked sufficiently on this element over the winter persists. Then again with so many things to fix, it’s impossible to do everything. 

Sat 21 – I detected a slight feeling in my throat yesterday afternoon, this morning it feels like there is  a cold coming on. Hopefully with today being a rest day, there will be nothing missed and the body will fight it off.  The training block is all but complete with the first big competition of the year next week in the Scottish Open. 

The draw published yesterday looks favourable in that I have avoided a seed. Cannot ask for much more than that. Similarly in the doubles and I have been paired with a player I have played before, so we should make a reasonable match up. 

Just now need to stay healthy and get to Glasgow. 

On this designated rest day my body feels heavy and would quite willingly sit on the sofa all day today. 

Sun 22  – The first thing I am aware of is the power and ferocity of the exchange as shots rage back and forth. My vision is limited to the trajectory of the balls as they scorch across my field of vision leaving vapour trails behind them against a dark background, green streaks tinged with orange. The protagonists and their rackets just out of view. Back and forth they go, seemingly without rest, shot after shot.  Breathtaking!

Then I woke up. Brought to the new day by  a dog barking. Its 6am on a Sunday morning. I’ve had almost my 8 hours. Time to get on with the day. The dog is quiet by the time I reach her, sat upright in her bed looking at me. Maybe it was the early morning cat that dances along the wall of the neighbours garden in the early early morning light. She settles willingly down to sleep again and as I wrap the blanket around her.

This afternoon, the awkwardness of Wednesday is replaced by more of an understanding. The mind and body seem to have absorbed the lesson. Maybe even had a discussion to see how working together they might be able to help. Agreeing that it is about time we got this serve thing sorted.

Somehow the power was coming from more than just my arm, I could feel my weight behind the ball, giving it a good push. 

Mon 23  – The craziness of going to Glasgow – hard to justify, feels a little silly just now. There seems to be  a lot of noise about how stupid it is to go all that way, just for a tennis match. An occasional voice says, wow fantastic, but it feels in a minority. For the most part I have kept quiet on the subject. At the end of the day you can only be true to yourself, so off to Glasgow it is. 

I imagine being a set and 3-0 down and thinking how I will feel then? Then I dismiss this thought.

Dare to believe

Dare I start to believe after all these years that I am getting near to something that I feel I should be able to do much better and with greater consistency. After all I am 6ft 2ins and a little bit and I should be able to rain serves down into the service box with power and accuracy. This has never been the case. Anything overhead has always been substandard. Initially I put it down to poor eyesight and then lack of strength in my shoulders. Whatever the reason, I feared my serve more than my opponent, that’s just the way it has always been. 

Over the winter we have been making occasional changes, as late as last week I was feeling I had not done enough. Yesterday, well maybe it’s getting closer to something I can rely on. Not there yet, but glimpses, a feeling of some progress. 

I am throwing the ball higher for the serve and this is allowing other things to happen. This last week we have worked on keeping my left foot still as I throw the ball up, still as I get ready to hit the ball and only as the racket comes forward to strike the ball do I pivot on the left foot as the shoulders come round. It felt awkward on Wednesday morning. Try and integrate the newest piece of advice and everything else goes off. The ball however was only going in one place. A wide serve to the deuce court and a pretty good one at that. It felt like I could do nothing else like this was the only possible outcome, given the position of my feet, the ball toss and the strength and range of motion of the rest of my body. Of course that would never do as the only type of serve, but if this could be reproduced at will it would be a good security serve to go to. 

Mon 23 – evening men’s squad– stood on a ball and tweaked my knee. 

Tues 24 – 7am lesson with Mike. The receptionist said inspirational when I appeared at 6.55am having jogged from the gym. 

The long journey 

Weds 25 – Travel to Glasgow. Shared driving. Two hours on, coffee and a wee, swop drivers. All told 10.5 hours on the road and no serious hold ups. All good apart from a little stiffness from being sat all day long. 

Thur 26 – On court just after 7am. Hit for almost an hour, starting gently and building up. 

Doubles today. My partner allocated by the tournament states that he will play backhand. It goes 0 and 0 against us. I was too passive and should have taken the game more to our opponents who rushed the net on every occasion. We were a poor doubles combination, too many mistakes and no real clear plan of how we would play, so got what we deserved really. 

Into Glasgow for food at the Smokin Fox, a busy bar serving food and a good lively atmosphere. We manage to sneak a table in the corner for an hour before the reservation is due. 

Fri 27 – Morning singles match. Won 6-3, 6-3. Generally pleased with my performance. Winning does that. Had a couple of tight games at the start of the second set. Best point of the match was at 3-3 swerving at 40-15. A serve down the centre to the deuce court and followed up with a well controlled shoulder high volley away into the ad court.  

Afternoon, across the city at David Lloyd West End for next match. Lost 1-6, 1-6. Played well. Somewhat more competitive than the score suggests. The defining game was at 1-2 in the second set. A game we agreed of some 10 or more deuces and some great rallies. Managed an increased number of good deep balls from both forehand and backhand, which I was pleased with. Served well. Somewhere along the way my backhand slice abandoned me. I could feel that I was not moving well to the shorter low ball and snatching at the shot, with predictable consequences of the ball ending up in the net. 

Sat 28 – Travelled back from Glasgow. Eleven hours on the road, taking turn and turn about, made the journey bearable. Hips and back get very stiff from being in this fixed position for so long. 

Sun 29 – I watched the short videos of my morning match from Friday. It’s a reality check. Evidence shows that I was slow to the ball wide on my forehand and too static on court for my liking. The serve is getting better, though technically still very poor. I am moving into position as the ball lands rather than being in position when it lands and my groundstrokes are mid court nothings for the most part. Video tells it how it is, that is pretty sobering. 

Thank you Glasgow 

There are those who said Glasgow is a long way to go for a tennis match and those who said it with their eyes. There are those who said it will be an adventure. Both wrong this was a journey of discovery. 

Value to be found in more than the score lines. Hitting the ball well, being brave in the tight moments, going for that serve. The bravery bringing its own freedom, to go for the right shot with freedom. Taking each point on its own merit, not dwelling on anything, even the poor line call, standing my ground when challenged on a call. Playing with optimism, 100% all in, feeling great about my tennis. Discovering something of self, more than I expected and beyond the tennis court. 

Knowing that my game is growing and I am growing with it. That feels so good. Knowing there is more to come  even though I reached a new level these past couple of days. 

The body is a little sore, time to respect it and give it a little rest.  

Thank you Glasgow. I would like to visit you again. 

Footnote: Mike Thomas is 62 years young. He has unfinished business with the game of tennis. This is the story of his journey captured in real time, destination unknown. Follow on lifelongtennis.com or say hello on e-mail lifelongtennis60@gmail.com

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