It’s that time of the year again; the first day of the Wimbledon fortnight, and the first thing I do at this time of the morning – it’s 6:23 as it happens – is to thank the sequence of unlikely events since the Big Bang which have resulted in me being able to sit on my bum on a Monday afternoon and watch it.
I’ve always been quite good at tennis, which is probably why I enjoy it so much. Now, when I say ‘quite good’ that probably needs some clarification. I have never actually won Wimbledon. I have played there, since there is a club across the road from the All England Club, which is called Wimbledon, at which I have played the occasional tennis match. But playing at the actual Championships? No. Not that good.
I started playing when I was knee high to a grasshopper, marking out a court in the back garden and hitting balls about with my brother. When I was eight, I tried to join the local club, but was told I was too young, and to come back when I reached eleven. (And they wondered why we didn’t produce any decent tennis players in those days – kids were fine so long as they didn’t disrupt the Ffortescue-Smythes’ mixed doubles game by practicing, or being visible, or, in fact, existing at all.)
I went back when I was fourteen, when the dimensions of the back garden court were unable to contain my forehand, and the neighbours were getting snitty about acting as ball-kids. They told me that I couldn’t join the juniors because I was “too good”. Now before we go any further, let me make it very clear that this is a relative term – and the point of this post, really – but that’s what they said. So I joined the seniors, neatly bypassing the bit where a coach tells you how to play properly.
To cut a long story short, I won a few Club tournaments, moved to a bigger club, played a load of matches and some bigger tournaments, and didn’t get close to winning any of them. I played the way I taught myself, which was all wrong and led much later to various physical discomforts I could now do without (though I’m not one to complain, as you know …)
So, I was quite good at tennis – better than the average – and I might well have been considerably better had I been coached as a child rather than sent away for six years. And I’ve always been a bit miffed about that. But, looking back, I’m more miffed about the attitude than the missed opportunity. I realise that I still would not have won Wimbledon. I wasn’t that good, or anywhere near it.
Does that bother me? Not really. There are very few people who are good enough to win Wimbledon, and at any time there is only one who can claim to be the best. But it still leaves plenty of room for people to be quite good.
And it occurs to me that for practically all of us, that’s just what life’s like. When we’re young we dream of being the best at something, but for practically all of us, it ain’t going to happen. Those who do make it talk about the hard work you have to put in, but the truth is that the vast majority can put in more hard work than a bee on overtime and they still won’t get to the top because, simply, they aren’t good enough.
Once you accept that, things become a lot easier, with fewer kicked walls, frustrated tears and / or drunken sulks. I’m not the greatest writer that ever lived – Shakespeare still has his nose ahead of me there – but so long as a few people read what I do, and smile, or nod, or ponder … if they think it’s good, that’s good enough for me. And it’s certainly good enough to let me sit and watch Wimbledon for a fortnight.
Talking of which – in the written equivalent of the kiss of death – I am going for Andy Murray to win this year. Though with the miracle of modern electrons, that name can swiftly be changed when events show me also to be far from the best when it comes to making predictions!