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I’ve never been to Wimbledon and at this stage, I’m ok with it. Like that moment in my 30s where I realised that not only was I ok with not having kids, but I actively didn’t want them. Tennis used to be a big part of my life, but it has never been kind to me, so Wimbledon and I are finished. Wimbledone, you might say.
We used to go ‘up the courts’ at school every lunchtime. They were those multi-use courts that had a basketball basket either end and in summer you could stick up a net and use the lines for tennis. I think we used them for soccer, too, but as I only went to soccer practice twice ever, I can’t really remember. I always preferred the idea of hitting the ball with something other than myself. And although I’m not sporty (outdoorsy, yes; sporty, nah) I got good at it. There were pock marks on the gable wall of the house from me bashing away, for hours on end. That wall and I sure had some times. She was a worthy opponent: she never missed and she never tried to put me off by giving me the evil eye when she served. She didn’t serve, to be honest with you, but I was always glad of her sending ‘em back.
In my late teens, the best thing in the world happened in Kinsale. It had always been great if you were a swimmer, so everyone was: you could go to the beach or to Acton’s pool (outdoors at the time – we didn’t have health clubs back then, just moving or not moving). The brilliant thing that happened was that a tennis club opened. We could take all the grudges we’d started in school and settle them EVEN ON WEEKENDS. I fought at that net, and fought hard, and tennis taught me who I am. Tennis taught me that I am not a winner. I could battle, I could come close, but ultimately I would come second at best. I was asked to leave the dancefloor whenever We Are the Champions came on. I still don’t’ like it. But I didn’t turn my back on the tennis.
I got a hi-tech modern racquet for my 17th birthday. I still have it. I’ve never replaced it. How could I? I might not be a winner but that racquet triumphed over diversity all by itself. My mother’s car went on fire one night. These things happened in the 80s. The fire brigade came; high drama. They put the blaze out and no one was hurt but the glass in the windscreen and windows all cracked and the front tyres melted in the heat. My racquet was on the back window. There was smoke damage on the cover, but the strings, the handle, everything else was perfect. I will never part with it, even if I never pick it up again.
I grew up four miles outside Kinsale, in the county. We had a big garden and some fields. The previous owner had tried to make a grass tennis court out of one of them, but it’d break your heart. My sister and I did try to play on it but it was really just a field at the bottom of a hill, beside a river. A puddle, in other words. They’d have been better off trying to make a swimming pool out of it. ‘Splash!’ went the balls as they landed, never a sound you want a ball to make. So back to the wall I’d go.
When I finished college, before moving to Dublin, I worked various jobs. My favourite was chamber-maiding at a guest house in Kinsale town. I’d cycle in, racquet strapped to me, work from 6.30am, serving breakfasts to Americans, then stripping beds and cleaning toilets til about midday. After that, I was free. I’d cycle up to the club, see who was hanging around, play til dusk and cycle the four miles home again. I still came second in tournaments, second at best. But I still hung in there with tennis.
I thought it was brilliant when, later in life, I met someone who was as nuts about tennis as me. We didn’t ever get to play – no affordable club near us and we were always travelling for work; I don’t think I could have got my smoke-damaged racquet through security. But we talked about it a lot. We watched it A LOT. In fact, that was the last thing we did together. We lay in a crappy hotel room, watching the greats on Centre Court. Then we had to be in separate countries for a bit and next thing I knew, I got a call. Dumped, over the phone. ‘Splash’, went my heart, like a ball on a soggy field that’s not for balls at all. Now, the sound of blaps and pops and scores called by an umpire put me in mind only of a broken heart.
Enjoy yizzer strawberries and cream. I’ll be going for a walk.