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Cultural Architect

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd set, how to win the US OPEN (15th and final game)

Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you all. I can’t believe that this has ended in such a thrilling style, with so many decisive moments, nerve tingling decisions, and life changing choices.

Fergy was an incredible opponent this afternoon, but I agree with her when she says the best woman won (i.e. me).

So, congratulations to her for putting up such a spirited fight, and congratulations to me for pulling out all the stops and astounding everyone.

While now is not the time to crow, it is worth remembering those who fell at an early stage during the competition and for the valuable contribution blah… blah… blah… they have made to the upper echelons of the tennis fraternity.

Holding the trophy aloft will stay in my memory for the rest of my life and I would like to finally thank you all, my supporters, my coach, my advocates and my enemies for the encouragement you have given me or the motivation which has spurred me on to prove you all wrong. This year’s US OPEN has proven to me that anything is possible, with the right attitude, guts, determination, and fertile imagination.

My club, my tennis, my world, will never be the same again.

Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd set, how to win at Wimbledon (14th game)

I sing the tennis apotheosis and recreate the Empire (9-5)

I walk through my apartment door in SW19 and I’m bowled over.

Not in a cricketing sense you understand, but by the public response to my impending Wimbledon final tomorrow afternoon.

There are bouquets of flowers from admirers all over the world – from Serbia and Scotland, from the USofA to the Straits of Menai via the bars of Dublin – which reach from the floor to the ceiling. There are cards, and more cards, telegrams and yet more cards. So many cards and begging letters that I lose count. There are faxes and reams of emails and final demands by the shed load. I gather them all up and drop them in the bath. I can look at them later.

There are sponsors’ gifts – specially designed chocolate boxes, intricate trinkets and bags and bags of tennis rackets – all with my face adorning their protective covers. They’re using the photo of my first-round victory where I’m looking up at my wooden racket with a look of astonishment on my face. I’m not sure why they’re using that one – there are many more with me in action on the court which would be much better images for the youth who will follow in my wake after this fortnight.

Amidst the tsunami of fan mail, severed horses’ heads and indescribable underwear, I find the most satisfying emblem of my recent success: my local club have formulated a new youth policy in light of the hundreds of young children from near and afar who have come knocking on their doors, demanding to meet their local champion, expecting to breathe in the same air as he, and be honoured to share the same bar and curled up sandwiches on a Saturday afternoon.

My success, in short, has breathed new life into an ailing tennis section of an ossifying amateur sports club and the committee are now having to wake up to the realities of the 21st century.

And whilst of course nothing is guaranteed in this most frustrating of sports, what I am confident of is that my legacy on my local club cannot be ignored. Mrs Lady Chairman, the consistently dangerous grass surfaces, the warm keg beer, the disrespectful thirteen-year olds – these will all be things of the past when, at shortly after 4pm tomorrow afternoon, I lift up on high what is rightfully mine: the trophy of the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final

We may not be a powerful tennis nation, but my story will inspire generations.

Like our glorious Olympic successes of 2012, it will lead to invigorated tennis policy in schools; to droves of happy families taking to their local courts over the weekends; and to a resurgent economy which catapults us back into the world as the leading economic powerhouse.

The future of empire has never looked so bright.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd set, how to win at Wimbledon (13th game)

Preparation is for wimps (8-5)

Well, whether I like it or not, I now know my opponent for the final match of this year’s Wimbledon men’s tennis finals. I have tried in my silly, superstitious way to avoid looking at the draw, but now there can be no avoiding the truth of who is left in the championship.

So, it’ll be him and me again. We’ve had some epic ventures in our time, and this looks like being yet another one.

So, how to prepare?

Emma (R) suggests saunas, gluten free pasta and a spot of practice on the Virtua Tennis 4 Xbox console. I’m more inclined to hit a few balls at the BBGs who line up at the back of the practice courts at this time of year, puffing on a few illicit ciggies before they’re called to bow and curtsey to the great and the good.  Avoiding my power packed service will definitely keep them on their toes.

On the other hand, it’s now too late to prepare for anything other than what the final result will be. There’s a lot spoken in elite sporting circles (the ones I frequent) about failing to prepare and preparing to fail: but my view is that preparation is a much over-rated pastime and that we would all be a lot better off if we lived in the heat of the moment, in the hustle and bustle of the here and now, rather than worry in advance about this particular shot, or that particular action.

Tennis is a sport – take it from me – which requires its players to get in the zone, stay there and don’t leave it until the last BBG has picked up your drenched towel off the grass and you have shaken hands with HRH and banked the cheque. 

And that means hoofing it down to the pub for a couple of last-minute pints of our landlord’s best foaming Hawkeye Bitter before casually sauntering down to Centre Court some time on Sunday, ready to take my place in history.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd set, how to win at Wimbledon (12th game)

Shakespeare is walking the hallowed Wimbledon turf (8-4)

‘Wild Wednesday’, ‘Wacky Wednesday’, ‘Wednesday Wipe-out’ – whatever you call it, our Wimbledon Wednesday had all the elements of the best of Shakespeare.

Both tragedy and comedy were never far away yesterday as player after player succumbed to the dangers of the turf and inexplicable bouts of heavy breathing.

I myself had a fortunate escape due to a combination of physical and biological elements. A storm reminiscent of The Tempest and a gastric bug bringing about another type of tempest deep in the bowels of my unfortunate opponent (Pendos Pendalivski, Montenegran, Court 28 #unbelievableresult in case you are still catching up).

Not only was I victorious in the most unlikely of circumstances, I also feel vindicated in my views on the perils of playing on grass (nota bene, woman chairman of club tennis section, nota bene), so I approach today with a clear sense of destiny and purpose.

Shakespeare is clearly walking the hallowed turf of Wimbledon this week, hanging out in the locker room with the guys and I suspect he will have a ringside seat at my match with the Slovenian, Jack deLadd, later today.

To coin a phrase of the famous 1960s Supermarionation show, Stingray, ‘Anything can happen in the next half hour – and probably will.’

Jack, Novak (D) and Hubert (H): you have been warned.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd set, how to win at Wimbledon (11th game)

The signs, signifiers and signatures of tennis semiotics (8-3)

The tension’s mounting as we head towards the last few days of the epic tournament that is the Wimbledon Championships of the All England Club.

The signs of my potential progress through the next rounds are encouraging and I feel I am finally being treated with the respect that is due a wild card who has achieved more than anyone’s wildest imaginings could have foreseen.

The groundsmen tug their collective forelocks as I pass them by. The guys in the locker room go silent when I enter (a sure sign of respectful awe). And even my one-time adversaries, Gerd Fistingburger and Alois, have taken to stepping aside when I approach them, their heads bowed, eyes averted (both gestures, significant signifiers of shame).

I sense a victory of massive proportions on the horizon.

Even Mrs Lady Chairman, to my great surprise, phoned late last night ostensibly to ask how the courts were behaving themselves, although I knew this meant that she was dying to ingratiate herself with me.

I was able to point her, without the slightest hint of sarcasm, to the list of casualties those accursed surfaces have been responsible for over the first week of the competition. She didn’t listen, as per, and even had the effrontery to ask if I could get Andy (M) to sign her grandson’s tennis shorts for her. I assured her that my signature would cost a lot less. But she was having none of that either, made some rude remark about my attitude (again) and swanned off the phone (again) no doubt to start constructing a well-executed complaint (again).

So, whilst there are many pointers to my impending resurrection in my local club, there is still a job to be done at the top of the political pile. My mission will not be complete until I have the trophy in hand, the cheque in the bank and Mrs Lady Chairman waving the white flag of surrender.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd set, how to win at Wimbledon (10th game)

Could it be magic? (8-2)

Sue Barker called it Magic Monday and I have to say she’s not wrong.

As far as I’m concerned, as long as it’s followed up with a thaumaturgic Tuesday, another weird Wednesday, an unearthly Thursday and a freakish Friday, then I don’t mind as my chances of appearing in the final are inexplicably shortening day by wondrous day.

So, this is what they mean by the enchantment of Wimbledon!

Tennis players young and old, amateur and professional, skilled or incompetent alike all in thrall to the superstitions, the voodoo and the hiatus that the tournament brings around every year.

I am, as the 13-year olds in our neck of the woods say, having it large.

Not least because I have just trounced Serena Williams, the lady’s number one seed over 3 scintillating sets. She was aghast, I was astonished, Sue Barker for once was speechless.

Magic Monday indeed!

Watch out Roger and Noli: nothing can stop me now. See you both in the final!

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd set, how to win at Wimbledon (9th game).

The draw, the superstition and Quantum Physics (7-2)

The phone has been ringing constantly on this supposedly quiet Wimbledon Sunday. Many club members (woman chairman excepted – surprise, surprise), have been offering their support in the unlikeliest of ways. Some have offered to carry my racket; others have offered to stitch their logo into my t-shirt. One wise crack offered me a day’s intensive training.

Me and training! Imagine that!

But they’re all asking the same question: What do you rate your chances in the 4th round?

And they then proceed to tell me the potential matches I could be facing should I, by the wildest stretch of their imaginations, be successful tomorrow when play resumes.

They talk in hushed tones of finals with either Rafa or Noli. They summon up huge successful lottery applications for the club itself. They imagine fending off the press on a daily basis. They even rashly devise plans to improve our own grass courts. It’s at this point I know we have entered a quantum universe where nothing is what it appears to be.

I then tell them in no uncertain terms that every player has their own superstitions to get through a tournament and mine is a simple one – don’t look at the draw, don’t plan to play anyone in particular, but just turn up on court at the right time and see who turns up. The habit I have developed is based on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle of the more I know, the less likely I am likely to win. Conversely, the more ignorant I remain, the greater the likelihood of my success.

This strikes many of the committee as being a bit foolhardy but in comparison with other Wimbledon superstitions – shoelace colours, number of steps from court side chair to the baseline, jumping up and down in front of your opponent when the umpire’s tossing his coin – not knowing the draw is as logical as any of them.

And let’s face it, if any tennis player believes their little acts of superstition and habit can influence a result for the positive, then my superstition is no better or worse than theirs. One thing it does prove is that the tennis universe is no longer Newtonian. We’re into parallel universes, relativity theory and time-space continuum warps complete with Einstein-Rosen bridges, Black Holes and String Theory to boot. It’s no accident that quantum theory describes so accurately what it’s like to play on grass.

Not knowing the draw allows for the random and the unexpected, and one thing I do know, is that I’m going to need plenty of quark, strangeness and charm to progress through the second week at Wimbledon this year.

So, to all you committee members and followers out there: please keep me in the dark about the supposed logic of the draw and allow for a little bit of relativity theory to make its mark on proceedings this week.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd set, how to win at Wimbledon (8th game).

Ukrainian magic is no match for English guile (6-2)

I have to admit to some unease about Andy (M)’s result and my unseemly response on his doorstep yesterday.

He didn’t need to hear that from me, and I should have been back in the laager (as the guys call SW19) hitting my balls against the BBGs instead of berating his dogs and declining career.

But I wasn’t and I wasn’t. Instead, I paced around the outside courts, trying to comprehend what happened during that fateful ‘Wimble-weird’ Wednesday.

I became wracked with guilt as the super-moon assumed ghost like proportions and memories of my early days on the club’s mini courts surrounded by traffic cones and bean bags overwhelmed me. I felt possessed. A tennis legend in his own lunch time but out of his depth. Owls flew out of the nearby poplar trees. I saw skulls of dead tennis players turn to look at me accusingly as I stalked the pathways around Court 2.

Before I know it, I’m faced with an awesome sight: not the expected lanky Bosnian, Djelko Djelkovich pacing around the court, but the Ukrainian, Sergiy Stakhovsky who just the day before was responsible for Andy (M)’s premature ejaculation from the tournament.

How could this be possible?  Matches at Wimbledon couldn’t just disappear, could they?  It was all beginning to feel like a crazy dream.

If Sergiy was hoping to keep a low profile after his jaw-dropping victory over Andy, you certainly wouldn’t know it. He had draped a huge banner over the railings which featured a Ukrainian flag and the message: “WELL DONE SERGIY – THE MAGIC WORKED”.

So that’s what’s going on I said to myself as we warmed up. The Ukrainian summoned up the spirits of Kiev and this is what had done for Andy (M). This fellow from the Urals and his magic potions was now loudly proclaiming to a nearby camera crew:

“The night before I played Andy, the kids left a pot of chocolate spread in front of the door to our room with a sticker on it saying, ‘magic recipe for Sergiy’. I had a little bit of it in the morning, so the kids were happy, and it worked. That’s why I said it was magic and now I’m taking it every day because they believe in it.”

I was determined that whilst he might have dispatched one of the (alleged) tennis giants of all time and fiddled with the fixtures to boot, there was no way that his hocus pocus was going to derail my ambition.

I promptly set about dismantling Stakhovsky’s service and all-round game. Before too long I had won the match 3 sets to 1 (6-2, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3) and Sergiy was dispatched back East with his magic potions slung over his back and his tennis racket wrapped around a lamp post in a nearby cul-de-sac: a sobering reminder of the rapid rise and even quicker fall of one of the giant killers of our tennis times.

I was on my way to the fourth round: not knowing who was next on my list but determined to make up for my part in avenging Andy (M)’s downfall.  Ukrainian chocolate magic my arse.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd set, how to win at Wimbledon (7th game)

Dashed dreams and future horizons (5-2)

I was dismayed last night to find out after I’d been hanging out with Roger (F)) and Rafa (N) that Andy (M) had fallen at the second hurdle of the prestigious event that is the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament.

As one who had earlier that afternoon successfully progressed to the third round, I felt for Andy and his dashed dreams. My immediate reaction was that I jump on a bus and get straight down to his penthouse suite in Putney and console him. Rafa (N) advised me against it though. He had tried such an approach a couple of years ago only for Andy (M) to set his American Pit Bull Terriers loose on him the moment he rang the doorbell.

It is difficult for someone so old to fail at such an early stage in this international competition – and to fail so badly, truth be told – but I am sure he will take it on his substantial Scottish chin and recover in the fullness of time. I sent him a text message to tell him as much and urged him not to give up.

Think positive!” I texted him – “but don’t give up the day job either”, I joshed with a funny little emoticon at the end of my one-hundred-and-sixty-character message. He hasn’t replied yet, but I expect he’s going through some tough soul searching at the moment, up there in his penthouse suite in Putney. No doubt his yappy dogs are keeping him company.

That’s the trouble with being so old on the tennis circuit these days and trying to live off your past glories. You go into a game with your head in entirely the wrong place.  You think you’re it. You think you’re invincible. You think the world owes you a living. You think you’re God’s gift to tennis. Just because you’ve got a nice penthouse suite in Putney and a family of yapping American Pitt bull terriers.

But the fact is, you’re over the hill, you’re long gone Daddy-oh, and there ain’t no turnin’ back the hands of time ‘cos you gotta make way for a new generation of up and coming stars – all us tennis players who’ve been waiting in the wings for years and who may not have the penthouse suite in Putney, or the barking mad American Pit Bulls, but by God we have English spirit and English blood and are on the path to reclaim the ‘King Of All Tennis Tournament Trophies’: the Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy.

So, when Andy (M) surfaces from his black dog depression and is ready to talk to me, I shall benignly place my hand on his shoulder, steer him gently in the direction of YouTube videos on how to play tennis and offer him a couple of ring side seats at my next match – which by the way, is my third-round tie tomorrow.

At Wimbledon.

The place where he just got eliminated from.

It may just get him in the right state of mind for his next Grand Slam tournament.