When the Lawn Tennis Association posed the question “Anyone for Tennis?” to the Herald newsroom team earlier this year I almost choked on my Pimms and strawberries and cream. After all that was the closest I had ever got to tennis.
I may have admired Martina Navratilova from afar when she was a regular champ at the Devonshire Park tennis tournament in the 1980s and 90s and watched Cliff Richard entertain the Wimbledon crowds when rain stopped play, but it’s fair to say I didn’t know one end of a racket from another – plus the fact I am hardly the fittest fairy in the forest and certainly not the most athletic person to ever take to a tennis court.
Despite all that, I found myself gingerly sticking my hand up, begging to be picked and before you could say “Game, set and match” I was being taken under the wing of the LTA, tournament sponsors Aegon and more importantly Francis Mackie at Eastbourne’s Tennis In The Park to teach me the basics in just six weeks.
That was five weeks ago and in that time I have become the proud owner of a Babolat racquet, a Nike tennis outfit, now have four lessons under my belt and had a one on one session with Davis Cup captain and the head of British men’s tennis Leon Smith at the National Tennis Centre in London’s Roehampton.
And the icing on the rather large pile of strawberries will be in less than two weeks time when I take to the court at the Aegon International Tennis Tournament at Devonshire Park for a mixed doubles match with three other journalists, who have all given the opportunity by the LTA in celebration of the tournament’s 40th birthday.
Our six-week progression course aims to improve tennis skills in the 40 days before the Aegon International from June 14-21 and it’s all to do with driving excitement around the 40th anniversary of the Aegon International and more importantly encourage people of all ages and levels of ability to get back into tennis or take up the sport.
Now, when I say I was an absolute beginner, I really knew nothing about tennis.
A quick Google told me the game’s ancient origin lay in 12th century northern France, where a ball was struck with the palm of the hand until it evolved in to the game we know today by Louis X of France.
I have been watching a few games of the French Open tennis tournament to try and get to grips with the point scoring system of Love, Deuce and Advantage and challenged my children to throw tennis balls at me so I could practice my hitting technique.
My coach Francis, who together with wife Gemma, runs the community tennis facility at Gildredge Park knew he had taken on a mammoth task when I either hit the balls into the net or sent them soaring miles away to the other end of the park on my first lesson but told me my feisty and aggressive style of playing would stand me in good stead.
I’ve been practising at every opportunity and can now maintain some sort of rally without falling over, hurling my racket in the air after the ball or tumbling over the net. I just need to cut down on the effing and jeffing when the ball doesn’t go where I want it to on court as Davis Cup captain Leon Smith warned me I would have points deducted for swearing on court.
Leon, British men’s tennis manager Martin Weston and up and coming player Kyle Edmund were optimistic when myself and one of my opponents in the Eastbourne mixed doubles match, BBC South East weather girl Rachel Mackley met them at Roehampton on Wednesday last week.
“You’ve been coached well,” Leon told me, “and considering you’ve never played tennis before, you’ll be able to hold your own on the court at Eastbourne. You’ve just got to keep practising and having rallies with other players. You’ll be fine.”
With just 11 days to go now until our big moment on court, the pressure is mounting and tennis is mostly all I think about morning, noon and night. My next lesson is tomorrow morning followed by a match with some of the lovely patient members at Tennis In the Park and further matches at the weekend.
But, that’s all for now. I must dash as my Pimms is getting warm. And I need to catch up on the next round of the French Open.
You can also catch up with my progress at www.east bourneherald.co.uk
For ticket information for the Aegon International visit www.aegoninternational.co.uk