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Most posh people think tennis is a sign of civilization. I think it's a threat

Most posh people think tennis is a sign of civilization.  I think it's a threat
Most posh people think tennis is a sign of civilization.  I think it's a threat


If I were a therapist, I'd say it started in school. Some girls arrived with titanium rackets in fancy Wilson cases. Like the type of sneakers you wore, your tennis racket in boarding school was either a badge of honor or a source of shame.

I don't want to sound like our Prime Minister and bleat about how I didn't have Sky TV as a kid, but I was swinging a wooden racket fished out of a dusty old chest.

The girls with gleaming Wilson rackets seemed to have been playing since they could walk, with a natural athleticism that implied they had a tennis court at home. I could just about get the ball back over the net, but it wouldn't necessarily be in bounds when it landed.

The less said about my service, the better. I was often picked last to form foursomes during gaming lessons and spent much of my time mumbling. Sorry! as the ball floated over the fence and tumbled down the hill to the lacrosse fields below. Don't get me started on lacrosse.

I felt an acute and constant sense of shame throughout the summer period, because being bad at tennis was considered uncool, and vice versa. The only thing I found unavoidable about it was the tea afterwards.

My most embarrassing moment, perhaps still to this day, was during a summer holiday when I was fifteen and a friend invited me to stay in the Lake District, with the three chilling words: bring your racket.

They were a tennis-mad family and both daughters played for the first team at school. How do I get through the week without shaming myself? A few days before I left, unbeknownst to my mother, I went to the local pharmacy in my village on the Scottish border and spent some of my pocket money on a tubigrip.

This was smuggled into my suitcase and only taken out when I was safely alone on the bus to Penrith. I'm so sorry I can't play, I told my friend and her family when I arrived, waving my right wrist demonstratively in front of them. I fell off an ATV and sprained it.

Now it seems like something you might hear someone musing in a documentary about a serial killer: I thought it was a bit strange when she went over her wrist and wore a bandage on it all week, but it seemed to work out for me. went fine when she was having lunch.

Yet I didn't have to play once and I happily sat at the side of the field and kept score.

I guess the kids these days would call it triggering, that creeping shame I feel at this time of year when people start talking about Queens and Wimbledon and players with unpronounceable names.

Putting on a white tennis skirt and catching a glimpse of a lawn can induce a shudder and a terrible feeling of insecurity, because tennis is one of those sports that certain people still take up as a sign of civilization.

These people would be extremely snotty if you started a conversation about, for example, the Champions League during the football season. Yet in the summer it was suddenly expected that a 19-year-old Croatian had just climbed three places in the ATP rankings and that Nadal had pulled a muscle in his big toe.

You have to be able to ski, play golf, play tennis and ride horses, a former English polo captain recently told me about the achievements he expected from his children. Now, take a walk through the parks of West London on a sunny evening and you'll see them all strutting around in their whites. Great photo, Petunia! Your service, Johnny!

Sometimes the strange Sorry! of a player when his forehand hits the net and falls gently to the other side, impossible to return, which has always struck me as an amusingly British way of responding to winning a point.

Is our innate competitiveness at work hardest on the tennis court? When you're hovering on the baseline, you're not supposed to show that you mind when you actually really mind.

You congratulate your opponent on a particularly stinging backhand that whizzed past, while you're actually thinking: I hope your whole family gets wiped out by a plague. And the dog.

Is this healthy? I love a bit of competition over a game of Scrabble or backgammon, but I once watched a friend's brother lose a point on his beautiful home court in Oxfordshire and then hit his racket so hard on the tarmac that the frame broke. Kindness on the surface, but psychosis underneath. That's how sociopaths operate, isn't it?

Worse still, tennis is more fashionable than ever this summer because that Gen-Z darling, Zendaya, starred in a movie about it and apparently everyone would be wearing Ralph Lauren dresses because of it. Challengersit is called.

I started watching it a few months ago, partly because a friend had daringly suggested that it would make me want to see the King, as it also stars Josh OConnor, who so brilliantly played the young Prince Charles as Aberystwyth's student in The crown.

OConnor plays a washed-up tennis pro forced to sleep in his car, and it was entertaining enough, with all the grunting, sex, and titillating drama, but all I could think was: these people would have been insufferable at school.

Wimbledon gets underway in just over a week, but that seems to have gotten pretty silly lately, with Center Court bonds selling for 116,000. The Royal Box will be filled for the remaining 364 days of the year with people who have no interest in tennis, everyone will grumble about the strawberry prices and some poor line judge will end up with a great shine from an ace at 140mph.

While Chris de Burgh starts in my favorite of all his songs, Dennis is a threat with his Nobody for tennis? Well, quite a bit. Get out, Dennis. Leave me alone with my beautiful book.




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