Last week I dropped by at a junior tennis tournament to see how champions are made. I thought I glimpsed one of the reasons
Didsbury, South Manchester. Home of the Northern Tennis Club, proud owner of the title ‘The Wimbledon of the North‘. Where Bill Tilden held the record for the fastest recorded win in a five set match.
The walls of its clubhouse are festooned with images of winners of its Open pre-Wimbledon tournament. Pete Sampras, Billy Jean King, Roger Taylor, Sue Barker (no Andy Murray, although he did play in the junior tournament, along with, more recently, club members Naomi and Liam Brady.
I wrote fondly about the club in 2015 in my somewhat biographical book Tennis Matters. You can see it on the Books page of my website.
Today I was catching up at the Northern with an old friend whose son was playing in the Red Ball (intermediate) tournament.
The weather was inclement. If some other city hadn’t claimed it, Manchester might have been The Venice of the North for its well-publicized year-around surfeit of water.
Pools of water were settling in the car park, which was packed with assorted people-carriers, from the humble to the seriously exotic. I waded up the landing stage steps to the entrance doors. In the reception area, there was a lot of folk young and old milling about on either side of the electronic turnstiles. You could feel that atmosphere of nervous anticipation to be found at the start of a tournament, be it an under-tens Red Ball event, or an ATP major. This applies as much to the aspiring parents as their offspring.
Into a packed members area, temporarily ceded to the tournament. The tables, readied a few hours later were showing evidence of snacks and drinks not normally approved of as an athlete’s diet. Maybe comfort eating for nervous mums and dads, I hoped.
I found a table occupied only by outer clothes and tennis bags. I cleared a space, and took in the view outside. Through the steady rain, I could see in the distance a few small figures in whites darting energetically across the uncovered courts. There are indoor courts reserved for the tournament, but not enough for the first round numbers. To the side of the courts, a huddled group of parents stood underneath large sporting umbrellas.
One match ended in a perfunctory handshake from the players, who then, ignoring parents, bolted out of the court and headed for the shelter of the pavilion.
After a brief time in the officials’ area, one of the players reached my table and reclaimed his place. His dark hair was as securely plastered on his head as if he had just emerged from a ten-meter dive. Ignoring evidence of an alien species (me) he fell into conversation from another of his kind, discussing a pre-tournament favourite.
“He’s so good”
“Because he gets everything back.” Then, with precision of a certain kind of ten-year old added
“Well, almost everything”.
At that point his father as coach appeared and started the water-rescue protocol, helping in the removal of the boy’s sodden shirt and providing him with a dry replacement.
I now understand better how champions are made. How team GB won so many Olympic medals, How Andy Murray is on an unfinished run of over twenty matches in top tournaments. At a young age, Murray had a well-documented horrendous event. But these young players all face their own tough trials. Their versions of rainy days in Didsbury.
You heard it here first.