Who’s for Tennis? In the Armchair? Bouncing on Tarmac? Whizzing Across the Lawn?at
Why do we love certain sports? As children we see people playing them and we feel ‘I can do that’ and sometimes we can and sometimes it’s silly to even try. Nobody in my family played tennis but I was completely entranced by this dotty game from an early age. Alone, in another time-space continuum I watched Rod Laver, Christine Truman and Billy Jean in grimy black and white… glued to a little old box with total fascination. I honed my service alone on the school’s tarmac, and later played endless rallies with those happy to play endless rallies. As a teenager I played in Regent’s Park next to Sean Connery and Ursula Andress. I improved my backhand significantly as an adult and also the serve. I was not good… but not bad. In middle-age after surgery on the left side I over-compensated with the right arm and my tennis days came to an abrupt twanging end. But I still love it….And so, as I no longer play I have become an armchair tennis player. Now I watch the trajectory of the ball and begin to wonder if others far, far away are reproducing merry cosmic cataclysms in the same way. Somewhere in the further regions of space, divine Olympic forces are pinging white dwarfs and balls of gas around with gay abandon.
But apart from the configurations of the of the ball’s trajectory, I’m entranced by the personalities and the dramas, not to mention the enthusiasm of following one’s own national players. The first time I saw Andy Murray play, when he was little more than a weedy youth, I was captivated by his variety of shot and sheer intelligence; similarly, the first time I saw Emma Raducanu in action I felt the same way. When she competed in the US Open I put £50 on her to win, something I never ever do, and am unlikely to do for a year or two. And now today, after the third round of Indian Wells, when all the English hopes have almost entirely fizzled away, comes Harriet Dart, a face I have hardly ever seen, as fresh as a daisy and brave as a lion and the excitement begins all over again.
It’s a poetic game. The personalities, the arcane rules, the harmony of player and ball and the technique needed to master oneself and one’s opponent will always intrigue.
Better still I have a nephew who is now arguably the best tennis correspondent in the UK so I can even boast about something tennisy, even if my days of playing are gone forever! His name is Simon Briggs. His writing is almost as scrumptious as my own, but I strongly suspect his opening serve is a great deal better.