I’m not what you would call an enthusiast about tennis, but, when I moved from south-east to south-west London, I was looking forward to smashing some balls in the sumptuous green spaces. Being an avid gym-dodger who wanted to keep in shape and let out some aggression – tennis seemed like the perfect compromise. (The other option was jogging, but running past so many pubs when you have a thirst on is simply a temptation too far.)
Three years on, have I played a proper game of tennis? (Bearing in mind I’m two tube stops from Britain’s holy grail of strawberries and cream – Wimbledon). Well… yes, just the once. I snuck back into my old university and played on a weedy court, watched by 30 mightily unimpressed, foreign exchange students.
But there must be a better way. So where can I get some practice in?
There are eight tennis courts within walking distance of my flat, each belonging to a private members’ club. But even if I wanted to join one of these rather serious institutions, like The Hurlingham, the membership fees are not exactly cheap and there’s the small problem of an eight-year waiting list.
Ok, so the situation is not that bleak. There are public courts where you can play for a fiver a go – as long as you’re organised enough to book in advance. But I want the freedom to play when I choose, encouraged by the gorgeous weather or a rough day at work. Charities such as Tennis For Free are trying to help, but most public courts are under-maintained and oversubscribed.
My real bugbear is passing by so many empty tennis courts just crying out for a small luminescent ball to pound them relentlessly. I do get tempted just to hop the fence and live the dream, but then a little white placard politely reminds me that ‘Any trespassers will be prosecuted’. Damn!
It just makes you wonder when it comes to something like Wimbledon, which kicks off in a couple of weeks, why our British guys and gals perform so abysmally. I’m going to be a bit presumptuous and bet that, once again, the British team will be pipped to the post by someone with a bit of continental flair and nice hair.
Is snobbery and elitism crushing the potential of the next generation of London’s tennis stars? Yes, probably. Then again these kids, our future Murrays and Keothavongs could always risk arrest and make use of the empty ‘exclusive’ courts. That kind of passion and commitment could be what’s been missing from our tennis stars all these years!
Image by Pikku-Mikko courtesy of Flickr