What luck! I was mowing the back lawn, down the back near the shed, where the hydrangeas are constantly threatening to take over completely, when I found it. It was lying in some long(ish) grass, a perfect, yellow sphere. Picking it up, I could see that a brand-new tennis ball had found its way into the yard. It was as if it had dropped down from heaven itself.
I took it as a sign. Having been gifted a brand-new tennis ball, I would now devote myself to becoming a tennis player. All I needed now were tennis shoes, tennis socks, tennis shorts, a tennis shirt, tennis hat, a tennis racquet, a tennis court and a tennis net and I’d have all the gear you need to play tennis. Granted, that sounds like a lot, but it all means nothing without a tennis ball, which I had. Without a tennis ball, all those other things are for naught.
Truth be told, I didn’t just find a brand-new tennis ball. I also picked up two lemons and a ping-pong ball in near-pristine condition – but I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew, at least where the lemons are concerned, so I’m ignoring them for the minute to focus on my tennis career. It’s going incredibly well.
It’s not as though I’m starting from scratch. For a time when I was a teenager, I took tennis lessons. I don’t know why – it’s not as though we had a tennis court, so the opportunity to practice between lessons was essentially non-existent. I’m not sure if my parents saw some potential in me or it was some kind of joke, but I took tennis lessons for a couple of years.
There are several reasons why the Tyabb Tennis Court has never hosted the Australian Open. Firstly, there’s no seating to speak of, which makes it hard to sell tickets. There was a clubhouse of sorts, which I remember as the kind of structure you’d expect to find attached to an on-site van at a mid-range caravan park.
Immediately behind the clubroom, there was the Frankston to Stony Point train line which was both a good and a bad thing. If the words ‘close to public transport’ are considered a positive, the Club couldn’t have been any closer without the risk of being cleaned up by the 4:45 limited express to Frankston.
On the downside, any overly- ambitious lob was destined to sail over the clubhouse and land smack bang in the middle of the tracks. Which is awkward. It’s hard to imagine Novak or Daniil slipping through the hole in the fence to retrieve a lob that’s landed in between the sleepers.
When I first started playing tennis, I was terrible. After a couple of years of lessons and lots of effort, I remained terrible and as a reward for this extraordinary feat of consistency, I no longer had to go to lessons. I’m not sure whether this was a decision of my parents or at the invitation of the coach, but either way I was off the hook.
I retired my racket – a heavy, lumbering object made of wood that looked as though it could have been used by Bjorn Borg sometime in 1975. Whereas the rest of the tennis world had moved on to exciting, lightweight rackets made of graphite, my tennis racket was an old piece of timber that may once have been a chair. It has remained in a closet at my father’s house ever since.
I came out of retirement briefly. My brother owned a house that had a tennis court and, naturally enough, every family function from that point on included some kind of tennis tournament. Given that I had had lessons from someone who, if not a professional, had at least watched an entire tennis match from start to finish, I fancied my chances. To put it mildly, I was extremely confident, especially given I was in my mid-twenties and was pitted against my twelve-year-old cousin. It was hardly fair.
The score line told the story – six games to love. That’s not a result so much as it is a crime scene, with dignity falling victim to a fatal attack. Besides, all’s fair in six love and war. Job done; I trotted up to the net to shake my cousin’s tiny hand. ‘Good game’, I said, trying to sound as encouraging as possible. ‘Sorry for beating you,’ my twelve-year-old cousin replied. At that point, I told her that there was something in my eye before excusing myself for some time out in the caravan behind the shed. I tried to compose myself but, such was my state of mind, I only ended up composing ‘Baby’ by Justin Bieber instead. I retired immediately.
All great sport stories require a comeback. Mostly, they involve a return from injury or a bad patch of form. But never, in the history of sports, has there been a comeback by someone who started out rubbish, didn’t so much as lift a tennis racket for the best part of three decades and then returned to the sport in middle age, taking out a grand slam. This, clearly, was my destiny.
Clutching my new tennis ball, I stood in front of the hydrangea bush, half expecting it to burst into flames or, better still, for an arm clutching my tennis racket to reach out to present it to me, like Arthur’s Excalibur, but nothing happened. Using a spatula I found resting on the patio couch, I bounced the ball a couple of times before it hit an edge, rolled off the porch and under the deck, where it now resides with everything else we’ve lost and will probably never see again. My great tennis comeback was over before it even had a chance to begin. Anyone for ping pong?