Tennis – visions of Wimbledon, bronzed, white-clad players demonstrating their skill, strawberries and cream, immaculate grass courts. All very well, but what happens when the sun stops shining, the temperature drops and the wind and rain sweep in across the Kent and East Sussex marshes. The Sports Editor decided to find out and, racket in hand, went down to Rye Tennis Club in Military Road.
This paper’s last visit had been in August for the Open Tournament, played out on eight laser-levelled and lovingly manicured grass courts (some of the best in the country, outside Wimbledon, it is alleged). This time the scene was very different: under a grey November sky the grass had been stripped from the courts and brown earth stared at me from under its blanket of protective fleece. New seed had been sown (in October, while the ground was still warm, to help germination) and the courts are now allowed to rest until May next year.
The players, however, do not rest, as I discovered. The Club also has three hard courts (two astro-turf and one artificial clay) and all three of these were in use. We have described before how young players are encouraged through the school/club link system, but on this occasion it was some of the adult members who were being put through their paces by head coach Frances Candy. Gone were the white shirts, shorts and skirts of summer and in their place sports trousers and sweaters were the order of the day for the majority.
There were nine of us in the class, all with skills “needing improvement”. After a warm-up session of gentle hitting over the net we progressed to trying to maintain a rally, then volleying (requiring a reaction time quicker than most of us were used to!), serving (throw the ball in front of you, higher, get the power coming from your shoulders and upper body, not just your arm, be moving forward, follow through with the racket – good grief, how much more am I expected to remember) and finally we are divided up into fours and told to play. We managed a complete set within the time allowed and, much to my amazement, my playing partner and I beat our opponents 6-2. How did that happen? The coaching for the previous hour must have worked! Apart from coaching, there are club mornings three times a week when any member can turn up and be guaranteed a game. And, of course, the courts, subject to availability, can be booked for individual games at any time. So tennis players don’t, after all, hibernate in the winter, they just dress for the weather.
Photos: John Minter