Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Forfeit

During a particularly bleak moment in my glorious career, I was on the phone to my mother wailing about the atrocities being enacted upon me.

Even with the benefit of distance, they were indeed atrocities.

However at one point mother came over all US inspirational rather than her usual biblical. She said: 'Winners never quit and quitters never win."

It must have been running on the TV at the time over in America The phrase came to mind on Saturday morning after round 4 of the tennis club tournament.

On Thursday late in the morning still recovering from a quick snap of bad belly, I phoned up to ask if the Thursday night match could be rearranged. Too late the organiser said. We'll phone your opponent to tell him not to come. I looked out the window at the dark clouds looming and figured natural forces might intervene. "I'll phone back at 6pm," I said.

As I emerged from my slumbers later that afternoon, the sun had decided to do the same and there was no way the heavens were going to open.

And since I needed some fresh air, what better way to obtain it than by running after a tennis ball. So off I trotted expecting a rapid annihilation.

After the first few games I thought to myself this is winnable - if only I had my usual pep. Should have won the first set. Didn't. Got the second set. And could not hold serve in the final set. The opponent served for the match at 5-4 but I levelled and so - with night enveloping the clay court, we moved to the floodlit hard court.

6-5 to me. 6-6. Tie break and this is where it got a bit heady. I squandered three match points from 6-3 then it went on from saving match points to losing them. And at 14-13 to me he hit a poor forehand and it limped into the net.

Match. More than three hours later.

Matchday four - to get all UEFA Champions League about it - was on Saturday morning. And after losing my opening service game I broke back and then gritted on to win 6-1 6-0.

Not as easy as the score line looks. "We have the same kind of defensive game," the opponent concluded. "Only you were more solid than me."

Once back in the club house I was told that matchday five was on Sunday morning. But I was on a train to London. Not good enough as an excuse. I asked if my beaten opponent could play instead of me. Not allowed. For that to happen I would have had to abandon at 5-0 up in the second set. And I didn't do that.

And I wasn't about to cancel work to play a very amateur tennis match.

So my unseen adversary marches on - the beneficiary of my Paris London lifestyle rather than my quitter mentality. The organiser at the club had offered to bring the match forward to late Saturday afternoon.

But given what had happened earlier in the week and the fact that I had an evening out with the family lined up, it wouldn't have been the most clever of moves.

Or as the missus put it - "You don't want to injure yourself."

That's game, set and match on every level.

Simply Eurostar

'"Are you Mick Hucknall?" - "Not at this time in the morning...." Simply deadpan really. I said to the rock megastar know what you mean and paid a compliment to the stuff he'd belched out over the years. He graciously accepted the compliment and asked if I knew which bit of the coffee machine to prod. I suggested asking one of the lounge assistants.

Woudn't call it rubbing shoulders but he was cool. Ronnie Corbett and his wife were just ace and Eric Cantona had presence.

Wow travelling between London and Paris can be pure showbiz.

Mr Hucknall and his companion probably went on to savour the delights of ├╝berclass while I dug into the more modest second sphere of travel.

And simply read.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The High Life

I don't think I've got the mentality to make it big as a sportsman. Shame. After seeing how the real honchos do the business last Sunday, I had my own tilt for glory in the first round of the tournament at my tennis club.

Having spent the week getting into the zone - avoiding too much alcohol - walking up the steps at the radio station and anything else that could pass for sacrifice, I went off on Saturday to play the match.

But of course did too much in the morning by taking the boy out with one of his chums. It meant that my lunch was rushed and the course to calmness was under threat.

Fortunately Ligne 9 didn't let me down and I was at the club at 1.10pm ready for the combat.

Down in the locker room - OK , I won't get too sporty. Down in the changing room, it was rather unanimated. So I did some warm-up stretches and when I went up my adversary was there.

While knocking up I started to gauge his game and I did not like his habit of twisting his racket before he hit the ball. It wasn't annoying, it just meant that I was watching the twirling rather than the ball shooting back towards me.

He had this forehand in which he got under the ball and it went flying into the air and when it bounced, it went galloping up into the skies.

Fortunately he ditched this once we started playing.

I now realise that games are like recovering alcoholics: one point at a time. While playing it suddenly stuck me that I could go all gospel and instead of One Day At A Time Sweet Jesus, I could just hum: One Point At A Time...

But entering into the realms of sacrilege isn't good for focus.

The adversary had his son with him and I thought is this a ploy to get me to be less ruthless. How can you destroy the image of the boy? But the first round of the tournament is no country for young men.

I ploughed on. One point at a time. 6-0. I knew the crunch was the first game of the second set. Don't lose this I said to myself. Maintain the grip. Hold your serve. Idiot boy lost the first game. And then at 5-1. Serve it out. Idiot boy missed a match point and dropped serve.

Well it was 6-2 in the second. Hardly Federesque or Nadalien. But it was never going to be anything approaching those lofty warriors.

I knew that. As God is my judge.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Paris Weekend

And so when it came down to it there was nothing really new about the French Open final. Roger Federer played well and lost. Rafael Nadal has clocked his card, got his number, sussed him out. Whatever.

So Roger is stuck on 16 grand slam titles and Rafa is into double figures now. Six of the crowns coming in Paris. Hussar for Rafa. Or perhaps that should be vamos.

As I was wearing my radio hat, the men's final wasn't my only sporting concern on Sunday. There were qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations and there was misery galore in Egypt as they could only draw with South Africa. Egypt are bottom of their group with two games to go and it looks unlikely that the defending champions will be there in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon in January.

Wow. I've always been quite impressed by the Egyptians. Ace passing patterns and slick ball retention. I'd really like to have seen them take on the Spanish. Chess on a field.

But it looks like the Pharoahs - nickname for the Egyptians - won't be around for 2012. Holy Pyramids, Batman.

Sticking around for the French Open final meant that I was in Paris of a Monday morning with the family and it seemed to unhinge preparation for school on Monday.

There was drama and contention. Some mutterings about child 2 not getting out of bed to turn off the alarm clock for child 1. The boy not wanting to wear sandals. Maybe they all thought they'd put on a bravura performance to highlight what fun it is at the start of the school week.

No such fun and histrionics on Tuesday morning. The alarm clock was banned on Monday night and clothes were prepared for the day ahead.

It was as orderly as a Nadal Federer final.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Semi-final Woe

My tennis heros go back a long way. I loved Bjorn Borg, thought John McEnroe was great and have latterly wondered at the marvels of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

Maria Sharapova has never been my cup of tea. Don't know why. She is a great player, gutsy and very able. But I don't like her. Maybe it is her off court (press conference) persona that I don't like.

Whatever. She has just gone out at the French Open. Beaten in straight sets by the Chinese player Li Na. I expected La Sharapova to advance. But then I thought Arsenal would win the English Premier League.

What struck me was Sharapova serving two double faults in her final service game. I've not seen anything like that in ages. It's something that I would never have expected from someone like her.

She was attempting to collect a career grand slam here in Paris. And I've got to say there'll never be a better chance for her to do so. There are no overpowering stars of the women's game at the moment.

The world number one Caroline Wozniacki doesn't seem to know how to win grand slams and the Williams sisters are out injured.

So it was an open field especially with the top two women's seeds eliminated before the last 16.

More importantly I will be less down on myself when I serve double faults in a game.

It happens to players far better than me when the stakes are really high.