Tennis Tunnel Vision, Back On The Court

Enjoying my latest read – Andre Agassi’s autobiography.

I’ve been really getting into my latest read which is Andre Agassi’s autobiography ‘Open’. He was one of a handful of tennis legends I had on my bedroom wall during my early teens. He represented the anti-establishment, boundary-pushing personality that for me made the game exciting to watch during the 90s.

Whilst Andre reminisced his early years on tour, I too began to think back to my time when I would endlessly practise tennis against our house’s back wall. There were six large windows with brick space in between. The trick was to aim the ball against the red bricks and not the glass. The windows were double glazed and so an 80mph pounding wasn’t enough to shatter them, but it did make a loud booming sound throughout the house if one happened to hit.

This would really upset my dad. And now looking back, I think I’d be cheesed off if my son would relentlessly hammer away without any real regard to our house’s structural maintenance. But as a teenager with tennis tunnel-vision, I was determined someway, somehow on making the sport a possible career choice. I had already risen to the top of my school’s under 16 team and won a tournament. Then I joined the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) in the UK and did a few local competitions. Tennis was always at the front of my mind.

My parent’s south London home where I would endlessly practise tennis against the back wall.

Even on a family holiday in Austria, there was a friendly competition organised for the guests. I was the first name to sign up and the days leading up to my first match, you’d swear I was making my Wimbledon debut. I constantly strategised my game. I booked in practise matches with my dad. I unfailingly did all the classic tennis muscle stretches and warm ups each day. I was a text book athlete. Did it all pay off? Of course it did!

None of those poor holiday guests (who were nothing more than your casual tennis players in a park-type-level) stood a chance against an obsessed teen tennis freak like me who would have thrown a classic McEnroe tantrum if I hadn’t won the match. I walked away with the competition’s mini trophy citing my win as my first international triumph (even though it had no official recognition on the amateur circuit). But, I soon realised my build and actual ability was no where near enough to even consider adding tennis on my CV under ‘work history’.

If I played as well I as watched and thought about tennis, I guess I too would have been writing my own autobiography as another of the sport’s greats. Back to the here and now. And so, reading Agassi’s explosive story got my forehand twitching once again. I decided to put a call to a friend who works as a tennis coach in Shanghai. Hugo, 25, is from China’s Shaanxi province and he makes a living travelling to various courts around town teaching both expats and Chinese. He’s in demand with his weekends booked up weeks in advance.

With my tennis coach and friend, Hugo.

I got his first Sunday morning slot at 9am. Apart from the odd hit, I really haven’t played tennis in over ten years. Let alone have a proper coaching session (which must be getting to over 15 years since that last happened). He asked me if I had a racket. Uh, how could I forget that? I said no. I thought, as he heads up a tennis academy, he should have a spare one lying around.

It was a sunny but nippy winter morning and I met him waiting on his scooter at a nearby metro exit. Hopping on the back of his electric bike, the vehicle silently zipped along the roads to a nearby residential area where our court was booked. I was ready to relive my glory days. After a few simple body warm ups, we started inside the service line with some gentle racket swings. And after just three hits he shouted, “OK stop!”. “You have bad racket hold,“ he hollered. The four players in the court next door looked over at me. How embarrassing.

I had literally lost the touch. I had to be reconstructed from ground up. “Today, we focus only on forehand,” he said obviously noting that my little turn down tennis memory lane I gave him on the ride over might have been grossly misleading.

Hugo in his tennis academy office.

For the next hour he drilled me on grip, wrist position, weight balance, swing technique, racket follow-through and pace. It was hard to break old playing habits but eventually I was getting a consistent connection with the tennis ball which finished with him saying that I had excellent hand-eye coordination, moved well on court but just need to keep working on my racket hold.

It felt awesome to be back on the court. I will certainly never be a grand slam winner. But this re-ignited tennis activity might just have started phase two of my love for tennis – minus the tennis player posters. (Not sure how Lezil would take to have a dozen pair of tennis-focused eyes staring at her in our bedroom.)