Comedy of unforced errors.

We’ve been out to play tennis today. Me and Wifey bashing balls about, with scant adherence to the rules one might have seen in other major tennis events such as Wimbledon. In fact, in terms of tennis as a sport our little concrete court caper was about as far from Wimbledon as you can get without it not being tennis at all. But it was fun, and as exercise goes it was a nice break from bloody running and bloody walking and bloody 30 minute HIIT sessions in the dining room. It also proved to be the best use of the tennis rackets and balls that, in a stunning display of unquenchable optimism, Wifey ordered online two days before everything shut down in December; I’m not quite sure what the hurry was, because there is a reason why tennis frostbite is such a rare complaint.

Me and tennis go way back; I’ve been crap at it forever. But perhaps I’m selling myself short. When I was a kid my Mum forked out for me to go to a tennis camp for a week one summer and I was so good, or rather just noticeably better than all the other chumps, that I was singled out for praise at one point. Unfortunately this all went to my head a bit and so two days later the same coach that had bigged me up took me to one side and gently suggested I might want to tone myself down a bit, as no-one likes a cocky little four-eyed ginger twat. He probably had a point and it taught me a useful lesson – chiefly that most people who think they are great very rarely are and that, well, no-one likes a cocky little four-eyed ginger twat. All I’m saying is that clearly someone saw some potential in me. And then decided they were wrong.

Tennis requires two central physical attributes: the ability to run around a lot and the ability to hit a ball with a racket. Naturally there is much more to it on a psychological level but if you whittle it down it’s all about running and hitting. The running bit has never been a problem as such, but where my game starts to be found wanting is with the hitting part – or more specifically hitting the ball in such a fashion as to make it turn up at the right place on the other side of the net. Yes, that’s my weakness, and I am absolutely certain that even at 44 years of age if I could just sort that part of my game out I’d still be in with a shot at the big time. Yeah. Right. It probably doesn’t help that I play tennis about once every four years on average and I mean that literally – pick up racket, play tennis for an hour, put down racket, wait four years, repeat.

I can’t remember exactly what made tennis work for me at that summer camp but clearly I am half (or less) the player now that I was then. I’m sitting on the sofa with what feel like two broken hips, though it a mild source of comfort that Wifey is in even worse shape. We played for about forty five minutes and I would have happily carried on, but you can’t build Roland-Garros in a day. We exchanged a few brief, lily wristed rallies, pretended the lines didn’t count and always made sure the net never felt too left out. On the court behind us were a couple of young girls with their coach and they were putting more energy and skill into each shot than we managed in our whole session, but good as they were the chances of them ever making any money from tennis will be wafer thin: you need money to make money in tennis – it is not really a council estate kind of a sport.

And that’s it. We bought some rackets and balls and nearly four months later we played a bit of tennis. If you chase the ball every time it is a very useful little work out, and the way Wifey was hitting I was running around like a puppy on a beach. As she slips into an exhausted doze next to me I should thank her for ignoring my protests and reminding me that tennis is a very enjoyable pastime, regardless of how crap you are at it. I should also be grateful that we live around the corner from four perfectly nice council tennis courts (as in – they have proper nets and no obvious drug dealers) and that is a luxury not afforded to everyone. Today’s adventure also reminds me that David Foster Wallace wrote a few brilliant essays about tennis, which I would highly recommend you sniff out; he was both a very good tennis player and a very good writer. I know, I know – which is a lot more than can be said for me.

G B Hewitt. 03.04.2021

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