It’s a funny old game is tennis. To start with, have you ever tried playing it? At school we had tennis courts and every summer we would have a go. There were three courts in a line and surrounding them was a chainlink fence about 30 feet high to protect the neighbours from wayward shots.
Blimey, that net looks high when you’re stood on the baseline and I can recall one of my serves clearing the fence and landing three or four gardens away. And that was the end of the match because we only had one ball.
The only version of the game I did enjoy (and could play reasonably well) was hymnbook tennis. This we played on the asphalt playground, marking out the court with chalk and then kneeling and playing the game with our hymnbooks held in our hands as ‘rackets.’ We even had an umpire who would shout things like ‘let’ if the ball caught the school bags that made up the net.
And it was the same thing that inspired us year after year. Wimbledon. That’s the other odd thing about tennis. It’s a game we pretty much ignore for all but two weeks a year, then we catch a whiff of strawberries and Cliff Richard singing in the rain and we’re suddenly aficionados.
It’s the same today. There are a couple of public tennis courts not far from where I live. Most of the time you see a few lads kicking a ball around, but come Wimbledon and the nets appear and you see people whacking tennis balls about as if they do it all the time and failing miserably.
That’s the problem with tennis in this country. We don’t try to play very often, and when we do, we do it badly. The only kids who are trained to play are nice middle-class ones whose parents can afford the membership and club pro fees. The ‘ordinary’ kids don’t get a look in except for two weeks a year on a public court.
Meanwhile we have Wimbledon. For 14 days, kids will be inspired, then they simply forget about it until next time.
Here we are three days in and I’ve finally seen my first game, Johansson v Rusedski (never looks like it’s spelt right, does it?) And our lad has just drawn level at one set all. Yes, I know he’s Canadian really, but as they say, he’s our Canadian.