x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

My amazement at legends in Dubai

I play a little tennis, it being a sport you can carry on playing into your 50s without arranging for paramedics to be standing by with emergency medical supplies.

Mansour Bahrami in action during the Legends Rock Dubai event this week. He is noted for his trick shots and entertaining play.
Mansour Bahrami in action during the Legends Rock Dubai event this week. He is noted for his trick shots and entertaining play.

I play a little tennis, it being a sport you can carry on playing into your 50s without arranging for paramedics to be standing by with emergency medical supplies. I am fortunate in that I have found an opponent, who is only slightly younger than me, and is a smoker, so in terms of fitness, we are roughly equal - at about the level of a normal fit and healthy 70-year-old, or in other words a 55-year-old journalist.

He plays better tennis than I do, having had a few lessons and knowing about top spin and all that, but fortunately he is entirely non-competitive, and never misses the opportunity to apologise should he hit a winner that has me haring from one side of the court to the other (haring is a comparative term; to the naked eye it would more closely resemble tortoising). I am no more bothered about winning than he is, so I suppose what we play is not so much tennis as it is widely understood, as a version in which we gently knock the ball across the net to each other until it is time for lunch.

Our service games are a particularly shameful deviation from tournament tennis. Instead of trying to come up with a winning first serve, and then if that fails, resorting to something less ambitious for the second, we tend to lob over the second serve first. This gets the ball in play with the minimum of fuss, and saves us the trouble of retrieving the ball after the unsuccessful first serve, and bending down to pick it up, with all the attendant problems that could cause for aging back muscles.

Thankfully, few people are around to witness this pathetic spectacle, bar a few dog walkers and joggers, who usually have the good grace to avert their eyes and hurry on, recognising that as a sporting spectacle non-competitive tennis is only slightly less stultifyingly boring than the director's cut of The English Patient. The only spectators likely to linger by our court would be those involved in the antique clothing trade marvelling at our out of date sportswear.

There are better places to watch old men playing tennis than at Parliament Hill Fields in London, venue for my occasional outings - matches would be too strong a word. Anyone fortunate enough to have been at the Legends event at Dubai Tennis Stadium at the Aviation Club will confirm this. Here, proper tennis has been served up by players who imbibed the competitive instinct with mother's milk, and whose bodies have been coursing with the stuff ever since.

South Africa's former No 1 and twice Australian Open semi-finalist Wayne Ferreira, the Swede Stefan Edberg, winner of six Grand Slam singles and three doubles titles, and American Jim Courier, who at the age of 38 remains almost as fit as he was when he was winning grand slams in the 1990s, are among the players who have been playing in Dubai. No going easy on the serves for them. My attention has been with the oldest player in the tournament, Mansour Bahrami, the Iranian doubles sepcialist who has been a fixture in veterans' tournaments since 1993. He has become famous for his trick shots, notably the power shot through the legs and the drop shot which bounces back over the net because of excessive backspin.

He is of similar vintage to me, so I am lost in admiration for the way he uses this entertaining jiggery pokery to camouflage the passing of the years. It is a route I fear may not be viable for me. mkelner@thenational.ae