Hints & Tips
Every year, along with thousands of other tennis fans, I go through the ritual of watching, hoping and yet ultimately accepting that the chances of a British woman winning the singles competition is fairly slim. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got some fab players. Heather Watson, comes back from a year of injury and not great results and knocks out the 18th seed and Jo Konta seems to go from strength to strength, but I wonder where the next big champ is coming from.
I sit here in my garden, strawberries and cream at the ready, something cold and fizzy in a glass, French windows open enough to see my flatscreen and the sound of Wimbledon drifting through the window. I’m looking at my small but perfectly formed lawn, striped by my friend and gardener Brody. The sun is warm, and as I gaze at the lawn, the stripes become a little fuzzy and I gently drift into a daydream.
I am stepping out on to centre court, the sun beating down, the perfectly manicured grass firm but soft under my dimpled tennis shoes for the final of the women’s singles.
I am facing Hermione Yenkenkalov, an amazonian eastern european superstar who plays like the goddess of tennis, looks like the goddess of love and grunts like a market trader in a public lavatory. She’s the slightly older twin of the Yenkenkalov sisters who have dominated tennis for some time. Individually brilliant but even more so as a doubles team since no-one can tell them apart so it’s very distracting to play against them. They also grunt in two different keys so that when they are playing each other on the training court, they sound like a pair of very old windscreen wipers.
My crisp white outfit is sponsored by a major sports giant, as is my racquet and probably even my banana has some kind of endorsement. I feel remarkably fit as I gave up prosecco some time ago (unlikely) and train for six hours every day (even more unlikely) My hair is tied up in a bun (never). The crowd is excited, restless, wearing its best linen and union jack hats and wafting programmes in a fruitless effort to keep cool.
The court has taken a battering in this, another hot summer, one of the hottest on record, but the grounds-people at the club are the absolute best and they’ve worked like Trojans (why were they so hard working? ) to make sure the court survives the temperatures, the stripes are crisp and perfectly defined, the rye-grass cut to the regulation length of 8mm.
I win the toss and elect to serve. The first set goes by in a dream, I hold my serve, she holds hers, I hold, she holds, I hold she holds, then suddenly, during one game where I am coming close to being broken, that grunt really starts to get on my nerves and she breaks my serve. I lose the first set 6 – 4. Bother. My trainer comes on, I complement her on her new haircut and she tells me to concentrate. She’s right. I need to buckle down and nail this peroxide powerhouse. I manage to break her in the second set, winning 6 – 4.
The third set is a battle. We fight like gladiators in a grassy arena, the heat is intense, the crowd is partisan, it’s Wimbledon at it’s sweet, sweaty best. I served first and we’ve both held all the way, we’re at 5 – 4 and it’s her to serve. A ball boy falls over and gets up agin in one move without dropping the ball, the crowd are delighted and we smile. Then we stop. She gets ready to serve. The first is an ace. Bang. Gone. The second likewise, travelling at a ridiculous speed, and my chance of breaking her is vanishing faster than a burger at a weight-watchers meeting. What to do?
With steely resolve I return the third serve deep to her backhand, she makes it and tries a drive down the line but I whip in and cut the ball from the air with a forehand volley to her right. My point. I take the next point, 30 all. Then 40 30, then deuce. We bang back and forth between her advantage and deuce, me holding on for dear life. Then, at deuce, suddenly in a moment of unusual clarity, while she is smacking the ball from the back of the court, making noises that could be used to dub an adult movie, I drop the ball short, just over the net. She can’t get to it. I have a match point.
The crowd go mad. “Come on Holly” resounds from every corner. “Quiet Please” says the umpire. It all goes quiet. Yenkenkalov seems to take an age to wind up her serve but there’s no code violation so it must be me. Time has slowed. Then she hits the ball, and time speeds up again. The serve is a hard swinger out to my right, I get to it, save it with a heavy slice, giving myself time to get back to the centre, she drives to my left, I respond, back and forth we exchange our rally. Then, as she tries to change direction and with a heavy topspin, she tries to take me out to the right agin.
The ball hits the chord, flies up, up into the air. this is my chance, my heart is racing, pounding like Jamie Oliver’s pestle and mortar in some artisan peppercorns, can I get to it, will I hit it clean? I raise my racquet, every muscle hurting, every sinew taut, my head full of perfect stripes, summer days in sunny gardens, strawberries and cream, Panama hats, endless summer nights and paddling in the sea. Every British summer I have ever had is with me, every person i have ever met is there egging me on, and I know, this one is mine! I SMACK the ball with a perfect overhead smash, it hits her court , bounces up over her head, can she reach it?NO! I’ve done it. I collapse to the striped ground. I cry like a baby in an onion eating contest. I kiss the court. Jump up. I run to the net, she hugs me, she’s crying, I hug her, I’m crying, I shake the umpires hand, wave briefly to the ecstatic crowd then return to my seat. I open a bottle of water, pour it all over my head….
And that’s when I wake up. I have spilled a glass of fizzy wonder all over myself and the real Wimbledon is still playing in the background, no crowds, no win, no victory. Still, the stripes are still there, and you never know. We may get a winner soon.
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See ya. Holly.