This morning I had my first game of tennis in years. I think the last time I played would have been during a trip to London before La Serpiente Aquatica Negra was born, which means at least two years ago, in the cool surroundings of Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
So today when I went out to the tennis court at the hotel, I was clearly in for something.
Rental of the courts and the racquets is complimentary to residents of the resort, but you have to supply your own tennis balls (for which read "buy them from the hotel gift shop"). I think this is because it’s always too hot to play tennis, so there’s scarcely a long queue of people wanting to get on the courts, and then if they ever did play, the things they would tend to lose would be balls, whereas a modern tennis racquet, all carbon fibre and titanium, is both indestructible and too garish to misplace.
I didn’t have any clean athletic gear, having used up my only workout shirt yesterday, so I played in a pair of three quarter length shorts and a Bike Vancouver tshirt. My father dressed for the Arctic, like he does on all sporting occasions. At least he omitted his cricket jumper this time out.
We knocked up for about ten minutes. In the heat and humidity of Penang, the ball travels differently to in London. Or at least, so my father says. It’s been so long for me that I’ve forgotten how a tennis ball should behave, which should have conferred some advantage when we got down to match play.
I’m not used to AstroTurf. I’m also not used to playing tennis any more, obviously. While I could still make my shots and get most balls towards the corners of the opposite side of the court, I wasn’t playing efficiently, instead having to hare around all over the place, chasing the ball. I lost the first two games just like that. My father suggested we play for just another ten minutes, which seemed quite a sensible move.
We had got through four games by the time my mother appeared. The Foreman approach to tennis playing doesn’t involve making any allowances for age, infirmity or lack of practice: if a shot couldn’t result in concussion or at least a black eye for the opponent (never just the other player, always the opponent) then you aren’t trying hard enough. Like plimsoll-shod samurai, making a concession insults your rival. On the field of tennis, there is no love. Etc.
What that boiled down to was five games each ending in an interminable deuce, my father employing skill while I made the best of my battering forehand. Skill prevailed. By the time wife and child arrived to join my mother, I was literally dripping with sweat. My wife thought I’d been rolling on the floor, such was my state of disarray. My clothes were several shades darker than when I’d started playing.
Maybe I should blame the horrible espresso I drank just before we started. That seems a good reason.
Once my daughter was on the court we had to pause several times, as even we couldn’t risk taking out a toddler with a first serve. What would have happened if it had been a perfectly judged ace, and she’d got in the way? Would the gentlemanly thing have been to concede the point? I think not. Fortunately though, as La Serpiente Aquatica Negra loves balls, and there were two free courts, I could send a distraction her way and have a few risk-free points.
Still, it was no use. We went to deuce once, then I was broken completely. I staggered off, perspiring, and then had to spend an hour in the Kids Activity Zone chasing my daughter around the soft play area, which was a lot of fun but didn’t really aid recovery at all.
Still, nobody got hit in the face by a ball or a racquet, or knocked over by somebody rushing to return a lobbed ball, so all very good, everything considered.