The Return of the Tennis Menace

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?

Open Sesame!  The Story of a Volley of Insults

What a wasted opportunity.  Out of nowhere, a slot magically opens up in a tennis grand slam and the organizers stupidly give it away to the most deserving person. Fools!  This catastrophic lapse in judgment occurred at a time when the nation was thirsting for something special it could believe in. The organizers had a chance to do something memorable but squandered the opportunity in favour of some no-name from nowhere that no-one can remember turning up at all.  For shame!

It could have been so different.  All they had to do is take a moment to read the room and something truly splendid could have unfolded and transformed this summer into the greatest summer of all time, instead of the calamitous bin-fire of broken dreams that it was.  In some countries, they’d see it for the gift that it was and would have turned it into a reality television show spread over thirty weeks on a streaming service.  To ensure that it was as entertaining as possible, those vying to take the last spot in the draw would all be deeply unlikeable.  The winner would get to play in the first round of a major tennis tournament. The loser would be relegated to the next series of Love Island.  

Despite our track record of producing reality television shows so outrageous that they leave the rest of the world gasping, slack-jawed in bewilderment, that’s not how the last player should have been chosen.  Anyone can pump out a television show – we needed a process that would say something about who we are as a nation and as a people – even more than deporting someone famous does.

Mistake number one was replacing a tennis player with another tennis player.  Boring!  It’s such an incredibly predictable thing to do, particularly when there’s a better and (I say) fairer way to go about it.  You’ve got to give people what they want.  And what the people really want is for someone dangerously unqualified to step in.  That’s why I believe the last spot in this year’s Australian Open should have been raffled off.  Possibly with a meat tray.

Imagine it, the entire country rushing out to buy raffle tickets.  It’d be an absolute sensation.  The nation would be glued to their screens as the winner was drawn from a really, really, really large hat.  You’d be sitting at home on a Sunday evening when the phone would start to buzz, caller unknown.  Instead of an awkward three-second delay followed by somebody asking you whether you’re interested in low-wattage light bulbs, it’d be a voice informing you that you’ve just been accepted into the men’s singles draw.

There’s an element of surprise that you get from a raffle that simply can’t be replicated through a merit-based process.  Personally, I’d like the winning raffle ticket to belong to my father. Granted, he’s over eighty, but he owns a collection of tracksuits that would surely put even a seeded player to shame.  

For those who think that being above eighty is too old to play tennis professionally, I’ll only say that it’s roughly two Roger Federers.  Besides, how much do we expect from a last-minute replacement for the world’s number one player?  Frankly, all he needs to do is show up, get his parking validated, stroll onto court and swing the racket.  It’s not as though he could somehow fail to meet expectations.  There simply aren’t any.

The idea of someone getting an unexpected shot at glory is incredibly powerful.  The entire ‘Rocky’ franchise is built around precisely that idea.  It could have worked wonderfully well.  For one thing, no one would have been talking about Novak Djokovic if he’d been replaced by an octogenarian who’s likely to turn up to the stadium wearing gumboots.

You may think I’m speaking rubbish.  But that’s where you’re wrong.  Having played tennis at the elite level myself, I feel I am completely in tune with the game and intuitively know what’s best for it.  My extensive playing career – which consisted of eight training sessions at the Tyabb Tennis Club, whose courts were located so close to the Stony Point railway line that you had to buy a Zone Two ticket just to return a serve – gives me the mandate to spout any old rubbish when it comes to my third favourite sport.  (Just behind darts and curling.  Since you ask.)

 Sadly, I was forced to retire due to injury. Specifically, my feelings were hurt after a suffered a loss at the hands of my twelve year old cousin.  She was really quite merciless.  But despite having been out of the game for some time, I still take an interest.  As does my father.

The entire tournament had been done and dusted for a couple of weeks when I dropped in to see my father. He was there, in the living room; dressed in his best MC Hammer tracksuit, wearing gumboots and clutching a raffle ticket.  I gently broke the news to him, saying that he’d missed his chance.  He lashed out, saying it was all my fault that he missed his big chance, but he’s wrong.  It’d be more accurate to describe it as my double fault.