Category Archives: Banging on about… the Arts

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd set, how to win at Wimbledon (6th game).

Success is an instrument for the torture of others (4-2)

This ‘Black Wednesday’ of Wimbledon is delivering more than its fair share of thrills, spills and unfortunate injuries today.

From the unenviable position of being two sets down, 0-5 down in the third, and facing almost guaranteed elimination within two minutes of returning to court after rain stopped play, I am amazed – sobered even – to report that the ‘Black Wednesday’ curse of unexpected injury has affected my match too.

My opponent – the Croatian, Milos Milosovich – returned to the locker room in the break during our game. He cooled down; he rested; he kept warm; he had a light lunch – and as they were announcing our return to court he immediately came down with a terrible bout of gastroenteritis (so the guys in the locker room are saying).

He was doubled up with pain and had to retire from the match with immediate effect. I felt quite sorry for him as things were going so well, from his point of view at least.

Not that sorry, mind you. His departure means that I am through to the third round.

I am of course over the moon despite Milos being as sick as a parrot. I accept that this is possibly one of the unlikeliest outcomes ever in the circumstances but tennis, as my newfound coach, Hac, reminded me, is a funny old game. You never know when a knee injury or gastroenteritis are going to strike these days, especially on grass.

So, I am now preparing for my next opponent – the Bosnian, Djelko Djelkovich, a player I’ve never heard of before.

But that doesn’t matter.

I’m into the third round at Wimbledon and anything is possible. Back to the beer and coaching with Emma Raducanu!

Confesssions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd set, how to win at Wimbledon (5th game)

Success is an instrument of torture (3-2)

I’m fuming.  Absolutely fuming.

I’ve just come off court after what must have been one of the most ridiculous days in recent Wimbledon history. And it’s all down to the prancing and preening of several so-called tennis VIPs , so-called pros and their fluffed up youthful wild card ilk.

When the chalk dust settles, I shall have strong words with the blazers, leather arm patches, twinsets and pearls that make up the LTA establishment, make no mistake.

The morning had started so well. I started my match against Milos Milosovich (Croatian, court 28, 2nd round if you’ve not kept up) in reasonable form. Not great, I grant you, but certainly reasonable. I was 0-5 down after eight minutes and he was playing like a possessed Balkan demon, but I was holding my nerve, if nothing else.

But then lo and bloody behold who appears court side as I serve to save the first set? None other than the sneering Gerd Fistingburger and his mate Alois, both wearing ridiculously expensive wrap around shades and their baseball caps shoved firmly the wrong way around on their short-cropped heads.

I catch them out of the corner of my eye as I bounce the ball eight times prior to my specialist underarm serve and one of them yells ‘fault’ at the top of his tinny little continental voice and I promptly belt the ball right up and out over the court towards Henman Hill.

I duly protest straight after this outlandish behaviour but am cautioned by the so-called umpire. Five seconds later he’s given me another caution for racket abuse.

Now, I will admit my racket is no great technological marvel – but it’s well versed in being kicked around tennis courts and is used to a volley of expletives if it gives up on me at crucial times. It’s used to a bit of abuse – it’s why we get on so well and it’s the main reason I’ve got this far in my tennis career (such as it is).

So, giving me a caution for treating my racket with the contempt it occasionally deserves is like the proverbial suspect line call to a McEnroe. Needless to say, I lose the first set 0-6 and a red mist descends all around me as I struggle to compete in the second.

It goes from bad-to-worse. Not only do Gerd and Alois put their feet up on the railings and snigger and giggle at my hapless progress, but they’re joined by the other wildcard of Wimbledon, Emma Raducanu, who for some inexplicable reason is generating huge waves of enthusiasm from the fickle Wimbledon crowds everywhere she floats.

Emma adds to my general misery by outrageously flirting with one of the line judges at crucial times. Eight times my serve goes in, eight times he calls it out after she has distracted him with her fluttering eyelashes. Before I know it, I am 0-3 down in the second and the world is imploding.

Slowly though. It implodes very, very slowly. The ball slows right down. I run at the pace of a slug. The crowd applauds as if it’s in a trance. The seagulls over-head seem to hover for ever, and you can see their droppings leaving their backsides and falling slowly, inevitably and inexorably towards the umpire’s head. I think about warning him but it’s pointless. The way this tennis universe is operating, my warning would take over a week to reach his ears.

Before I know it, I’ve lost the second set 0-6 and I’m in the process of repeating the experience in the third set.

I get to 0-5 down and have to serve to save the match when all of sudden the heavens open.

The rain comes down unlike any other day in Wimbledon history and the umpire has no choice but to postpone proceedings and get the BBG onto the court, dragging the covers behind them.

I look at Milos and shrug my shoulders. There’s not a lot I can do about the English weather. I apologise but he ignores me, packs his bags and scarpers off to the locker room.

Meanwhile, Emma Raducanu cheerfully skips onto the court (what is she on? I ask myself)  swops my racket for a black and gold supercharged version and tells me to go practice hitting balls against the BBGs until it stops raining.

“From a young age, my parents always drilled into me that my attitude was the most important thing, and it’s either going to make or break my career,” she cheerfully confides in me. “So sort out your head, pull your socks up and try and stay here as long as you can. It’s what I intend to do. I feel like I’m on a holiday!” she trills and swans off to sign autographs for the wildebeest feeding frenzy that is the Wimbledon mob.

At two sets down and 0-5 down in the third, I really can’t see the point of it now. My so-called success at Wimbledon has become an instrument of torture.

But I do as she suggests, penning letters of complaint in my mind to keep the boredom of hitting balls against a motley collection of BBGs at bay. We’re back on court later this afternoon to no doubt finish off what has been an excruciating morning.

The sooner I can get the hell out of Kansas the better.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd Set, how to win at Wimbledon (3rd Game)

Not everyone loves a success (2-1)

I was shocked earlier tonight when I was hanging around the locker room (as the guys calls it) to find that, contrary to my belief that everyone (i.e. the guys) would be pleased for me and my early wild-card success, that there are certain tennis players (so-called professionals) who are actually quite dismissive of my achievement so far.

I heard one of them muttering rudely about the wild-card system and using words like ‘loser’ and ‘amateur’ and ‘tosser’ in the same sentence. When I tried confronting him with a hard stare, he just stared back, spat out his chewing gum at me, and fiercely pulled on his tennis hat backwards, in that irritating Leyton Hewitt style. And no, it wasn’t LH – he’s much too much a sporting gentleman to drop his standards so far.

No, I think it was a mate of the person who was my prospective doubles partner, Gerd Fistingburger, a Frenchman called Alois. He may have taken offence at my earlier jokey attempt to engage him in some ‘Allo ‘Allo banter (‘allo ‘allo Alois, how’s life in Rheinland Pfalz?) but I can’t be too sure. I’m pretty sure though I saw the two of them in the showers whispering to each other and casting me baleful glances in between washing each other down.

But his hostility has certainly been a wake-up call and has shown me another side to the green and pleasant lawns of Jerusalem.

I’ll have to tread carefully tomorrow in my second-round match – which, incidentally, I’ve just found out, is against the Croatian, Milos Milosovich, a very handy player I’m told, who specialises in long baseline rallies but is terrified to get too close to the net. I’ll need to get some more practice in tonight. I’ll just finish this pint and get on court with the guys until the sun goes down. Wish me well!

But if you’re Alois – you can go stick your racket up your arschloch.

You can also check out the Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player Podcast here!

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

Everyone loves a success!

I’m amazed how popular I’ve become on the tennis circuit ever since getting through to the second round at Wimbledon. I’m getting phone calls asking me whether I’d like to join a doubles team with the German, Gerd Fistingburger (no. 944 in the world) and a mixed doubles pair with the British woman from Acton, Julia Spetsi – our one-time no. 64.

I’ve declined all their offers as I want to focus on my singles journey. But this recognition by other players in the tennis fraternity is both gratifying and humbling – success breeds interest and everyone wants to get a bit of the action, in whatever way they can. Indeed, I’ve even alarmed myself by thinking about ‘going pro’ as the guys in the locker room call it. Still, I manage to rein in my ambitions and ground myself in the realities of the here and now.

I’ll need to keep my eyes on the skyline, feet on the Astroturf and get a new racket as well. That wooden one is well past its prime.

Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player: 2nd Set, how to win at Wimbledon.

I’ve got into the first round at Wimbledon! (1-0)

I never thought I’d see the day but my wild-card entry at Wimbledon finally came through yesterday. Apparently, there’d been a mix up between the LTA and the local clubs in the North West Division section 5(d) that caused several players who had been awarded wild cards to not be informed of their fortune and so they didn’t turn up.

Their fortune-turned-misfortune turned into my fortune when I got the call from the guys in the blazers at Wimbledon – probably the best tennis club in the world (notwithstanding the Carling claim of supreme ownership). I had to get onto court 32 at 7.30 in order to complete my first, first-round match against the Serbian thirteen-year-old, Slobodan Slobovitch.

Imagine!

Me at Wimbledon!

After so many years spent enviously watching all those bright young things slugging it out on the green and pleasant lawns of Jerusalem!

The best was yet to come. I turned up on time to find the 13-year-old loitering on court, clearly nervous at the prospect of playing a more seasoned campaigner. And he had every right to be nervous.  Before long I was in the zone. The ball was as big as a football in my eyes and flying at the pace of a snail. I picked off every shot with ease. I played my best high risk, low percentage tennis ever. I was living in the moment. I was in the here and the now. I felt immortal.

It was all over before I realised it and I had beaten him 6-0, 6-0, 7-6 with the tie-break going to a massive 26-24 point game.

He was devastated. Afterwards, he slumped, a broken figure, on the side of the court. His father couldn’t console him, but both had the good grace to shake hands with me before we left the court at shortly after 9pm.

So, I am through to the second round, and due to play early tomorrow afternoon. It has been an amazing adventure so far and anything else in the future is a bonus.

(Now available on Spotify too!

Bullseye! Look at what we could have won…

“That’ll kill you,” I cheerfully called out to the car parking attendant at the Covid-19 Vaccination Hub as he lit up a surreptitious cigarette on the side of the road. No doubt attuned to the futility of my off the cuff remark, he ignored me and kept his stare on the argumentative pair of security guards who were at it hammer and tongs down at the security gates.

“If you don’t like the fucking job why don’t you just fuck off?” remonstrated an elderly man heatedly to his younger colleague who was no slouch when it came to returning the insults. I missed the rest of the barbed comments between them as I turned the corner and entered the inner sanctum of the Hub: a long queue of hopefuls and sorrowfuls were stretched out in front of me, all waiting our turn for what we fervently hoped would be our promise of happier days ahead.

The inner sanctum had in a previous life been the hallowed ground of the Central TV studios where the ITV gameshow, Bullseye, was produced. Mixing general knowledge questions with darts, Bullseye was fronted by its once famous compère, Jim Bowen, who used to encourage his participants with several catchphrases: “Super Smashing Great” (although he disputed he ever said that); they’d receive their “BFH: Bus Fare Home” if they gambled but lost; “Keep out of the black and in the red; nothing in this game for two in a bed” referred to how contestants would have to avoid hitting the dart board in the same place twice; and perhaps the biggest killer catch phrase of all time, particularly in these Covid-sensitised times, “Look at what you could have won!”.

There was plenty of time to think about the irony of a site of a popular TV quiz game turning into a mass Vaccination Hub where the only prizes were of the Oxford / AstroZeneca or the Pfizer variety because the queue wended its way slowly into and around and through the studios.

There was no random throwing of darts into an outsize dartboard though; just the careful and attentive work of many NHS staff and volunteers, ensuring we were all focused on one common purpose: our salvation and wishes for better days for our friends, families, communities and nations after the disasters of 2020.

Look at what we could have won. You just had to read the news on your phone or in your newspaper to catch up with the recent mortality figures. 121,000 and still counting inthe UK; unimaginable numbers across the planet.

But for all the solemnity and patience of the queue, the ability of the staff to react swiftly to an ever changing situation was remarkable: one young lad with diabetes was brought through the Hub at pace. He’d been struggling but his carers were dealing with it swiftly, directly and with the minimum of drama or game show pizazz.

It was one tiny insight into the myriad of struggles that people here, across the country, across the world, have been enduring over the last year. “Look at what you could have won!” I nearly called out to the car park attendant on my way out but thought better of it. He was enjoying his cigarette in the warm early Spring afternoon air and didn’t need any more reminders of what is just around the corner.

Game, set and match: Janice Owen reads Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player for Mothering Sunday.

To celebrate mothers and their impact of tennis players of the future, Janice Owen reads Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player

Janice is a mother, writer and an ageing tennis player. Living in the village of Beetham as a small child her fascination for tennis was lured by the grass court at the big house which was very much a private court. Curiosity killed the cat in the summer of 1969 when her primary school class was invited to play croquet and have homemade lemonade on the adjacent lawn. She thought it was all very proper and very nice.

Janice’s grand slams were truly focussed on her father’s garage door where she practised and played against the her tennis opponents of the day in the 1970’s. Her mother’s objections to such activities led to quicker returns and an improved back hand. A family friend, John Ladell, realising her potential, gave her his own racquet, a gift treasured to this day.

Great tennis players of her school, and village club, Arnside, took court priority but that did not deter her spirit. Seeking out lessons she sought to modify her self taught bad tennis habits at the village club and appreciate the more competent players of every age.

Her grand slam and croquet techniques were later transferred to the squash courts and hockey pitches. As a mother she continued garage door grand slamming, she was the best solo player. Teaching her three sons to play and having matches on a sloping driveway, not ideal but great fun.

Today alongside her ageing but much loved tennis racquet she is the proud owner of a croquet set. Her continuing love of hockey, and the speed of ice hockey sit alongside her ambition to grand slam in walking tennis.

Whilst Mothering Sunday is special, some mothers are isolated from their children through estrangement. 50% of all donations received by 23 March will be made to MATCH, the charity supporting Mothers Apart from Their Children.