Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Tennis Challenge: Smashin'

As a kid I'd say that my sporting prowess was limited to two events, yes I dabbled in Rugby and Weightlifting in my teens but that was mainly because I was big for my age for a few years; our PE teacher most likely picked me for the pack due to a lack in numbers and my chunkiness rather than my skill with an oval ball and I most likely picked lifting weights because it'd make me even bigger and that'd serve to protect me from the odd bully at school, but my real sporting interests started early in the pool and later evolved during the summers when I worked hard to emulate my Wimbledon heroes...this is the tale of The Tennis Challenge.

The Tennis Challenge
  • Play: 6 (Matches (Each best of 5 sets to add fitness value)
  • Time: 8 Days
Feeling slightly under the weather I met Tones one glorious Sunday afternoon in July to start this challenge on some concrete courts in Middle England.

While it had been the best part of a year since I'd last played this game of wits, skill and physical fitness, I believe it had been a while longer for the chap on the other side of the net - who turned up to play with his girlfriends racquet.

The best thing about my route to victory was that despite the scoreline - which was more flattering to me than the match felt (6-1, 6-2, 6-2),  I can honestly say  I had to fight for it - Tones played with heart and guile; a number of my passing winners were narrowly missed by a man hurling himself through the air with no thought for his closeness to the metal mesh outer fencing or the hard deck below...

Think this is gonna hurt? Now picture Tones in the same position above concrete and hurtling towards a metal mesh fence!

My pal Big Pete is not exactly built for tennis (he resembles a cross between Michael Chiklis and Ben Grimm, the character he plays in The Fantastic Four movies) but like a true friend he agreed to meet me the next day back at home for Match 2.

Having discussed venues and come to few conclusions, in true British fashion we ended up going to the pub, but not just any pub - this was a pub with a tennis court.

It's no detriment to the big man that I beat him 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 and in fairness probably gave him a few of those points, because sadly his tennis racquet wasn't exactly built for a man not exactly built for tennis either (he'd borrowed it off of his niece), and despite the cheering support of his lovely wife Debs he was unable to learn and master an unfamiliar sport within the short time we had on court.

In either form this dude's hardly the new Roger Federer

After 45 hours away for work, the late afternoon of Day 5 arrived and it was a must play situation: but I was struggling with a sick feeling in my stomach during the day and before I left to get to Mopsies Courts in Basildon, I had to convince myself I'd be OK...

Old foes always endure great battles, think Senna & Prost, Vader & Obi-Wan, Kermit & Miss Piggy...OK so scrap the last one but you get the idea - Snelly & I were no different, we'd played many times in the past and both of us wanted to claim the trophy*.

*A few years back Snelly and I had come up with a concept by which we played Squash in the Winter, Badminton in the Spring and Tennis Summer to Autumn, whoever dominated each season owned the trophy for that sport - we never actually bought trophies for this, it was just the tern of accolade the overall winner of each event could claim.

For 3 and a half hours we clashed like titans, till eventually I held the trophy aloft; winning 4-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) - victory was mine!!!

'I'm gonna look after this for a while'

Less than 24 hours later and feeling knackered still quite frankly, I arrived at some courts in Leicester to play a man they call: Ryan Devlyn.

Ryan Devlyn
 He may not have played of late but pre-match he warned me that if his serves started to come good then he'd punish me with them - luckily he took the first set to settle in, I won 6-1 by using my recent experience to focus on accuracy and gave the lad the run around.

Then his serves started to kick in - they were low, quick and accurate and indeed they did punish me.

4 aces later however, I regained my attacking in-game play and took the second set 6-2, which seemed to have a diverse effect on my sturdy opponent and while he reeled from my improving returns he was unable to up the other elements of his game - victory came swiftly with a 6-love win to seal it in straight sets.

Joy in my heart and bruised muscles in my legs, just 12 hours later I cruised through the gates of what can only be descibed as a manor house - I hit jackpot on Day 7 when my mate Chalky agreed to play me on the private court of his father-in-law-ish.

It was then that I took the biggest beating since Bruno vs Tyson '96 - as yet another ace flew past me I asked whether Chalky had played much before:

'I used to play for my school a while back, had coaching for a few years...oh, and I might have played a bit of County'. Cripes.

I can honestly say that I only really won half a game, the 6-2, 6-2, 6-0 victory for my classy opponent didn't do him justice - as we walked off 'centre court' his breathing was calm and controlled, I was a broken man.

Chalky beat me like the big softy I am

'Slight problem old chap, my uncles not got a racquet with him'. I looked at my phone in disbelief. Bo***cks! Suave's news could not have come at a worse time - I now needed a final day opponent and didn't have a clue who'd be up for playing on such short notice, I was in danger of failing The Tennis Challenge.

Post call there ensued a melee of madness - I called John, Kelly, Matt, Ma, Glen...Mark, Brian, Mike, Paul, Si...nothing! I hopped in the car and headed to the M25 in the hope of being best positioned to get to any game, anywhere in the UK and continued to make and take calls - those who couldn't play me I made be scouts for opposition and they would report back - I was desperate for an opponent.

By 1pm I was sat in my car at a service station and distraught, I'd made over 40 enquiries for fresh opponents and had scouts covering everywhere South of the North of England, the gamble of heading away from home had even meant I'd missed out on a match I could have played near home but my potential opponent had to be finished my 2pm - there was no way I could make it back in time.

A call came in through my cars speakers, ''Ey up bud have you found anyone to play yet?', it was Donnie Chris, he went on to explain that he was taking his missus,Trish, to her bosses house in Northampton that afternoon and could pack a racquet and shorts if need be - if need be?!!! Hell Yes I needed be!!

We arrived at the oddly named 'Race Course' to find a large field with no race course but it did have courts galore, and room for football and basketball too - the final match began at after 5pm on the last day of the challenge, on a grass court that had seen much much better days.

Actual picture of playing surface

At two sets down I'd had enough of this comedic farce - I'd guesstimate over half the shots we each had to receive bounced so ridiculously that chance and luck had more to do with the scoreline than pure tennis ability (though I would say that at 6-1, 6-1 down), so we moved onto a hard court nearby...

Some say that its the 'taking part that counts', and for the sheer fact that I've set these challenges up for the exercise value rather than to win every one I should agree - but I can't, fact is that losing in straight sets at a game I love is blinking annoying! (Chris took the last set 6-3, damn him!).

With Special Thanks to:

Tones - Cheers for turning up to start The Tennis Challenge the day after that day ; )

Big Pete - Nice one mate, let me know when you fancy a rematch!

Paul 'Snelly' Snell - The Tennis trophy is mine, next up - Badminton & Squash!!

The man they call Ryan Devlyn - Nice one fella, but next time keep them aces to yourself.

Chalky - A pleasure to lose to you sir, many thanks for the education!

Chris - Well done mate...Git.


  1. So even if the most desperate situation you still wouldn't play me..... hmmmmmmmmmm J

  2. Hey J,
    Of course I'd play you at tennis!! Just thought you'd wanna get involved with another sport...check out the 'Olympic Sports' page for sports left for me to do and let me know which one(s) take your fancy.

    The Everyman Olympian

  3. You'll never possess the other two trophies, which i know you're well aware of.
    Sure it was nice for you to win back the tennis one, after a long stint gathering dust at SnellByDate Towers, lol
    You're bloody welcome to it as well! after springing the unexpected 5 sets match on me. plus it takes up too much room.