I will never forget my first ever tournament, I believe I may have just turned 13 or it may have been a week before as my birthday is in January, as was the Albany Junior Open. This tournament was a chance to prove that all my hitting against the wall had paid dividends.
Two brothers who were regional 'hot shots' came to play the tournament and I drew the oldest one in the first round. Looking back I had hit a lot of tennis balls but I didn't actually know how to play tennis.
The initial rounds were just one set matches and I got a free tennis lesson from this kid who I refer to still as 'Mr Tennis'. I called him this because he was the best player I had seen, way better than all of the kids I had hit against at Junior Club on Saturday mornings. This guy was a player who actually knew tactics and how to play someone like me who could get a ball in but didn't have a clue how to win a point. 6-0 to 'Mr Tennis'.
What disappointed me more than the loss was his rather cocky way of strutting around after the win and his official 'postmortem' of our match to his mates. I had gone up to the board to see when my doubles match was to be played and I heard him say that 'Thompson's weak'.
This was possibly my first real indication that I was playing a sport that was more than just a physical outing. It was a personality war, an ego battle, a way to gain a mental edge over somebody and it wasn't just confined to the tennis court. My way of thinking was that it was an opportunity to have 'something' over somebody after a win, sort of like owning a part of them, perhaps their mind.
It was starting to make sense to me as i watched 'Mr Tennis' strut around as a group of others would follow him, like a bunch of ducklings following their mother. This guy seemed to have an aura about him but I didn't know why, after all he was just a fairly big kid who could hit a tennis ball well with an old wooden racket. Confusing.
Being at your first ever tennis tournament gives you a view on the game that will probably stay with you forever, good or bad. Mine was bad. I didn't like the way the good players strutted around and hung off the back fence asking their buddies for regular score updates. I didn't like the lack of sympathy for the guys that got smashed, like me, and I didn't like the 'posse' style of hot shot players thinking they owned the place.
There was a part of tennis that I already didn't like just an hour or two into my first competition.
I recall speaking with my advanced group of players some 25 years later and telling them that if I witness the 'posse' strutting around and asking mates for scores then we would be having words.
I think they understood that it was a part of tournaments that I despised but I didn't tell them that I had seen it at my first ever competition as a kid. Unfortunately the 'posse' still exists and the modern day Coach turns a blind eye, not sure why as it reflects on their 'mentoring' skills. There's nothing wrong with a group of kids hanging out at a tournament but when they intimidate kids at the back of courts with their presence and score asking I find that disappointing.
My first ever tennis tournament was a flop, I had hit thousands of tennis balls that accounted for nothing, I had no idea how to play tennis and I hated certain aspects of the tournament scene. Whilst I was not interested in getting around at a tournament with a group of sidekicks I was interested in having another shot at 'Mr Tennis'. Perhaps that was my first sign of having an ego, a necessity for the sport of tennis.
My next year of learning the game is not clear to me but all I remember was when I turned 14 I was a much better player than the one who got belted by the big guy 12 months earlier. The Albany Open that year unfortunately did not give me my return bout against 'Mr Tennis' but the 'tennis gods' were looking after me. I drew the younger brother of 'Mr Tennis' in an early round, he was just as sure of his own importance as his older brother was. If ever there was a chance to right some wrongs of a year earlier this was it.
I don't forget too many matches or scores and I will never forget this one as I beat 'Young Mr Tennis' by a score of 6-3, I remember playing well. I made a point of walking close to this kid as he walked to his older brother and gave him the score. " You lost to Thompson" ??!! I didn't hear the reply, I kept walking, mission accomplished.
I won my age group that year and I had gotten some sweet revenge even though it was not against the guy I really wanted to beat but I had a moral victory. Tennis was a game that I knew I could play but I didn't like certain aspects of the tournament scene, I still don't.
To this day I don't ask people the score and I cringe when I see others do it, young or older players, a part of the game that should command common sense, yet it doesn't.
My earliest memories of the game were not all good but I loved playing, there was a burning desire to get better, but I needed a Coach......
Part 6 to follow....