Ready to give it my best shot


Aside from strawberries and cream, the great Martina Navratilova and men in shorts with nice legs, it would be fair to say my knowledge on the subject of tennis is limited to say the least.

In fact, some of the first words uttered by my long suffering coach Francis Mackie were something along the lines of “It really is quite remarkable how little you know about tennis”.

That, however, was four weeks ago and I have now completed tennis lesson number four and am a little more prepared for when I limber up with three fellow journalists in a match at the Aegon International Tennis Tournament in June at Devonshire Park.

The tennis sessions at Tennis in the Park, the community sporting facility in Gildredge Park, and the forthcoming round-robin match have been organised by the LTA’s Tennis Express Programme, a six-week progression course to improve tennis skills in the 40 days before the Aegon International from June 14-21.

It’s all to do with driving excitement around the 40th anniversary of the Aegon International and more importantly to encourage people of all ages and levels of ability to get back into tennis, which is how an absolute beginner like me is learning one end of a tennis racket from another.

So far I have learned how to serve, forehand and backhand shots, what to do with my feet, volley shots, smashes and the all-important rally when I can succeed in getting it over the net.

The points system, where I should actually stand on the court and where in the light or dark green boxes the ball has to go is my homework for this week and I am still trying to get to grips with love, deuce and advantage.

Francis is confident I am making good progress and everything will be alright on the day. “It’s good because you’re not frightened,” he says. “You’re aggressive and feisty and when the ball comes over your side of the court you’re not scared of it and will give it your best shot.

“With the time left that we have up until the tournament we are going to make you work harder to make you better. We want you to be able to hold your own on the court and enjoy it.”

And enjoy it so far I certainly have, despite wishing I could shed three decades and three stone between now and the start of the tournament. I am not the fittest fairy in the forest and my build is more of an Amazonian woman than an athlete but I have all the kit and clobber, courtesy of Nike and Babolat, and can regularly be seen practising either in the comfort of my back garden or at Tennis in the Park, which is run by tennis stalwart and former champion Francis Mackie, whose motto is “We want you to have fun, get fitter, improve and make lots of friends”.

The facility offers coaching for all ages and all levels and all courts are available for bookings. There is no requirement to join the club and there are great packages and offers – not to mention the nicest selection of homemade cakes for miles around in the Love All Cafe.

No doubt I will be regretting having the last slice of lemon and blueberry cake when I meet up with one of my opponents this week – the lovely BBC South East weather forecaster Rachel Mackley. She and I will be put through our paces by tennis legends at Roehampton, the home of the LTA in London (see Out in the Field on page 8 for the latest on Annemarie’s lesson).

You can catch up with my progress at For ticket information for the Aegon International visit