x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Rediscovering childhood pleasures

An obsession with tennis as a teenager makes a reappearance in adulthood.

Back when I was nine or 10, it wasn't posters of pop stars that dominated my bedroom walls. It was tennis players, specifically Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi. You can only imagine my joy when, years later, the golden (Grand Slam) couple got married. If Brad and Angelina's offspring are destined to be beautiful, then by rights, Andre and Steffi's children should have the best forehand the game has ever known.

Anyway, I digress. From ages six to 16, I was absolutely tennis mad. Wimbledon was the high point of my year - I even played there once. But before anyone gets carried away about just how good I was, we're talking baby "short tennis" with spongy balls and a child-friendly court, rather than the real deal. I had all the kit - a bag filled with rackets, tennis dresses galore, caps, sweatbands and, no doubt, a precocious attitude to boot. In the UK, young tennis players are graded according to a ratings system, so I had one of them, too, and was on a constant mission to get it as low as possible.

Several times a week, my mum and dad - also keen players but thankfully never destined to fall into the "pushy parents" category - would drive me into our nearest town for private and group lessons and my sister and I would spend our Saturdays at the tennis club, alternating between playing sets and eating toasted sandwiches.

When I got a little bit older, we used to travel all over the country so that I could take part in competitions. And that's when tennis became a bit less fun. There comes a point, after all, when you have to acknowledge that the chances of you turning professional are, erm, nonexistent. For me, this coincided with the realisation that I'd much rather spend my weekends with my friends, rather than embroiled in a sweaty three-set match.

So that was that. I gave up completely. Over the years, I've often thought what a shame it was and felt guilty about the amount of money my parents invested in me playing the sport. Bar a couple of half-hearted games while at university, I hadn't picked up a racket for 10 years until I ventured on court last week for a refresher lesson.

Despite the fact that my arms, legs, back and neck ached like mad the next day, it was fantastic. My topspin forehand (once my most-prized shot) is definitely off, but as I scrambled along the baseline and hit a backhand down the line with a satisfying thwack, something felt right. I think I might be hooked (again).

eshardlow@thenational.ae

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