Me and Tennis.

I've been writing these little 1000 word pieces for a while now. Strangely, I completed this one, the night before Andy Murray tearfully announced his impending retirement. I thought it was a sign, so I'm publishing it here.

Me and Tennis. On the occasion that Andy Murray tearfully announces his retirement.


I’ve been having an on and off affair with the game of tennis for a long time now, although I have been an unreliable partner, that much I’m willing to admit. Occasionally I’ll give the impression that I’m keen to be really involved, for the long term, the whole “grand slam” if you like, but within a few short months this enthusiasm will have rolled listlessly to a standstill at the back of the court, and become a mild enthusiasm, even an apathetic disinterest.

OK. Maybe it’s not always been my fault; a pulled muscle, the onset of winter and prolonged snow can do a lot of damage to any commitment, especially with this kind of physical, outdoor, pursuit, but in the main I’m willing to hold my hand up and say:
“Sorry, I’m probably just not the kind of person you were hoping for.”

Not that tennis cares, much, I’m sure. For most of the time I lived in London, just getting onto a court was hard enough, with queues forming on early morning telephone booking lines first thing in the morning, high charges for even the most rough and ready public courts at a time when any expenditure that didn’t include beer seemed unaffordable. A club membership was just out of the question. There seemed to be lots of other people willing to demonstrate the sort of commitment I didn’t seem capable of giving. Tennis had plenty of options. She could manage without me very well, thank you very much.

But still, occasionally, I’d nod knowingly when anyone asked me if I still played.
“A little…” I’d respond, trying not to give much away. I was occasionally willing to venture opinions about modern players and the modern game. I’d marvel at the speed and virtuosity of them on the television, without having any real idea about what was involved to play the game well, thinking myself somehow connected to them, because I owned a tennis racquet and had once played in a competition in London.

Recently I’ve been flirting with the lady again. She shows no sign of ageing. Without the passion and verve of my younger self, I wasn’t really surprised to see that she had pretty much lost all of her former interest in me, but she’s nothing if not polite, and put up with me for a while while I blundered around trying to prove something to myself. Then, like a foolish middle aged man, I made an almost fatal error of judgement and decided to start filming our brief liaisons. I should probably have asked first, taken advice even, but no, I thought it would be alright. I thought I’d be able to deal with any consequences and patch things up. I thought it would be fun to see how we were getting on together and maybe even work out how things could be tweaked to make our sessions together even more satisfying.

Oh, dear God. What an error on my part. Calamity! Playing back the video, a horror show of stiff un-coordinated arms and legs, racquet heads flying off at all sorts of strange angles, legs with no bounce, backs with no rotation, swings with no backbone. The whip of my service, in my minds eye, a rather sleek circle, similar, if you will forgive the indulgence, of a speedboat messing about in the harbour, turning easy circles at a comfortable pace, was more of a broken paddle boat drifting erratically in a hurricane, crashing from one jetty to another in slow motion. The horror. The horror indeed. At least, the younger me, perhaps just as ineffective had a bit of zip about him, this modern version, this aged version with the first signs of muscle wasting, this terrible clumsy and awkward version of myself has no grace, no style, no demonstration of wisdom learned from those previous years - just a visible display of what damage the passing of time, when combined with a large portion of self delusion, will do to a man.

I have three racquets now, all matching…no, don’t make me explain. I also have an opinion about what sort of strings suit my game best, as if to compound the folly! Of course, the correct thing for me to do would be to hang them all up, or, as this is the modern world, sell them on eBay, and retire gracefully, but permanently to the bar in the clubhouse, making more space for those with more vim, more zest, more anything . But am I going to do that? Of course not. So long as the game still takes me in, I’ll keep turning up. I have, for the time being, withdrawn myself from public gaze - common decency, as well as my mortally wounded pride has demanded it, seeking improving drills that can be carried out in more private situations, drawing inspiration from wiser-heads on YouTube, who make some things seem so unbelievably effortless that I wonder if some kind of technical wizardry is being used to confuse me. There’s a man who does this thing with a tennis ball on a short length of rope. Three swings that duplicate, and exercise, the basic service action. It looks so easy, so natural… today was my third session on an otherwise empty tennis court trying to imitate him. I just might be starting to get the hang of it, maybe, but it’s not right yet. My shoulder, it would seem, isn’t quite supple enough. The looks I get from passing dog walkers and, today, a whole team of men chopping down a tree at the side of the court, are a mixture of puzzlement and barely hidden amusement. They see the reality of this old gent desperately trying to hang onto something, in this case, a tennis ball on a rope. I, on the other hand am trying to recreate the moment, still remembered, when my serve was a dangerous weapon. I can remember these times quite clearly; I’m just not entirely sure they ever existed.