The Monday after the Wimbledon tennis championships is always a melancholy affair. You get used to a fortnight of fantastic tennis and drama and then all of a sudden you are left with nothing. However, this year seemed different for some reason. Maybe I am starting to put tennis and sport into context. Appreciating it for the moment and then letting it go.
Perhaps part of the evolution in my thinking was a consequence of a tennis tournament I played last year. I was lucky enough to play in the Wimbledon vets tournament (no, not an animal Doctor convention – a tennis tournament for us men of a “certain age”). Our match was on the showcase court of Aorangi Park (the Wimbledon practice courts – you didn’t think they would let me loose on centre court did you!?) It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, there was a good crowd in place and I was playing the guy that won it last year. So the pressure was on.
I started a bit nervously but then realised that all the guy did was get shots back into play with nothing else. So I stepped up a gear and really took the match to him. I loosened up and started to really hit my shots freely. I went from 4-5 down to 6-5 up and was feeling really good at the change of ends. I was dominating. Then it went pear shaped. I hit two clean winners that would have given me the set and he called them both out (to groans from the crowd). I looked pleadingly at the crowd for their verdict and they confirmed that my shots were good. But with no umpire what can you do? By this time the crowd were well on my side (like some pantomime and he was the villain). I could have lost my cool but I battled on. He managed to get that game and then it went to a tie break where he called another ball out and then when I hit a drop shot and the ball bounced twice he claimed that he had hit it after one bounce. More noise from the crowd as to their disbelief at what was happening. I then returned a cracking backhand that was a foot inside the line and he called that out as well. It was clear that anything remotely close to the lines he was going to call out. I protested loudly on this and people in the crowd started getting involved saying that the ball was in so he overturned the call. Now I know how he won the title last year!!
The crowd realised I was getting cheated so badly that they called the tournament referee down to inform him what was going on. It must be pretty bad when some casual observer takes such positive action. In any event a lot of the damage had been done. In my mind I figured I should have already had the set and like it or not the momentum shifts. All of a sudden the match is very different and you only have a few points to play with – a lottery. Unfortunately he won the tie-break 8-6.
The last set went by in a flash – all I wanted to do was to get into the car and get out of there.
I shook his hand but I wasn’t interested in any post match banter – I mean how can you respect someone who behaves like that? To the delight of the crowd, I remember telling him “I came here to have fun mate and you’ve spoilt a beautiful day”.
A year on and I have forgotten the final score. But the one thing I can remember like it was yesterday, is the feeling of walking through the crowd afterwards with my head held high and plenty of support and back slapping from people saying that I was the better player. I didn’t win the match but I was proud of my actions. I guess the thrill of success is short, but your dignity is with you always. I didn’t win but at least the spirit of good sportsmanship on my behalf was there for all to see….and for me that is what sport (and life) is all about.
You try your hardest but you play fair.
But all was not lost. The tournament referee was Allan Mills (a living legend for those in the tennis world). After the match, Allan Mills came over and asked if I would like to have a chat. Having met such a true legend in those circumstances is something I will remember always. So sometimes victories come wrapped in different packages….all you have to do is look out for them!
Mike with Allan Mills – the first Englishman to beat Rod Laver.
With my beaming smile you can see that he has cheered me up