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 reasonable at tennis, but 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 actual Championships, though? No. Not that good, or anywhere near.
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 to the same club when I was fourteen, when the back garden was unable to contain my wayward ground-shots, 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”, and let me immediately make clear that this was a relative term – and the point of this post, really – but it actually was what they said. So I joined the seniors, thus 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 some matches and some area 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 Joe – and I might well have been considerably better had I been coached as a child rather than sent away for six years. But I could have been coached for every day of those six years and 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 particularly conscientious 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 I’m happy that some people read what I do, and smile, or nod, or ponder, or whatever. So long as they enjoy it, that’s good enough for me. And as a bonus it lets me sit and watch Wimbledon for a fortnight!
Talking of which; good luck to Andy Murray. You won’t win this year, mate, but it’s good to see you back.