Wimbledon starts on Monday. Time to dust off that interest in tennis and practise the trickier players’ names, ready to casually drop them into conversation at parties and round the water cooler at work.
I loved watching the tennis as a teenager. For quite a while my dearest wish was that I might somehow become ‘Frau Becker.’ (Phew, close shave. My credit card has gone nuclear, but Boris is facing down debts in excess of £50million.)
Yes, I loved Boris Becker.
And I loved John McEnroe.
And Pat Cash seemed like a good egg.
I watched Wimbledon and marvelled at the Englishness of it. I’d read books where the protagonists would pick up a racquet after lunch and saunter off to the tennis courts.
I’d seen ‘The Way We Were’ and ‘A Room with a View’ and I knew that tennis was a thing that the middle classes concerned themselves with.
When I picked up the school uniform and kit list for the catholic boarding school I was to attend from 1981, it included the words, ‘wooden racquet and racquet press.’
I was beyond excited at the thought that I was to learn to play tennis as part of the school games regime.
At my Romford junior school we didn’t play tennis. We played rounders. Because rounders bats were cheap and we only had the one playing field.
Nobody I knew in those primary years played tennis.
So it was with a leap in my heart that we went out to buy my Dunlop Maxply Fort racquet and press.
A racquet press! Yes, it had a certain mousetrap quality but it was a thing of beauty in my eyes. Holding my pressed racquet to my heart, I felt as though I was just about to step into Mallory Towers.
A dream come true, indeed. (This was before Boris Becker came on the scene, obvs.)
Little did I know that the uniform list we’d been sent was the same list the school had been using since 1964.
Girls in the know, girls whose parents belonged to tennis clubs, knew that wooden racquets were so… 1978.
They’d moved on to light, graphite numbers by Wilson with soft covers which didn’t put their hands in danger of crush injuries every time they put their racquets away.
I arrived at that school already out of date.
I tried to stay faithful to the Maxply Fort. I reasoned that, if it were good enough for Rod Laver it was good enough for me.
I just wasn’t good enough for it.
I tried to be good at tennis. I wanted to be good at it. I listened in the lessons. I struck the ball with enthusiasm if not accuracy.
But I hadn’t started young enough.
Thirteen is too late to discover an ambition to win Wimbledon. Just ask Mr Williams, Venus and Serena’s dad.
So, I stuck to watching Wimbledon and talking about tennis instead.
The desire to be a paid up middle class English woman would not abate however. As an adult I took lessons every time we went on holiday.
Sweating my way through group classes in soaring temperatures on Greek tennis courts, I could just about muster a decent game of doubles.
If the person I’d been partnered with was like, really good.
Year in, year out, my game seemed stuck at NVG. (Not Very Good.)
Eventually, one year, I didn’t tick the tennis lessons box on the activity sheet.
I left my racquet at home and took up windsurfing instead.
I was just as rubbish at that.
But the upside was that every time I came a cropper in the water (so every time I went out) some gorgeous, tanned young man would get me to lie down on my board and he’d drag me back to shore with his bare hands.
You don’t get rescued like that in tennis.
And boy, do I love getting rescued.
Game, set and match to me, I think…