I expect most non-tennis -players picture of tennis in the UK is something like a toned down version of Wimbledon, grass courts, white outfits, sunshine and sportsmanship. This is not the case. Tennis is an enormously competitive sport from the age of four or five played all year round.
Our training centre uses the three indoor courts at our local private school but this is only for squads and individual lessons. If you want to practice, warm up for tournaments, etc. you are outside. This means that you are at the mercy of our fantastic British weather. This morning I went to warm up with my sister and it was -2. We were playing on frozen artificial clay with balls that had been in the back of my mothers car all night so were very reluctant to bounce.
Tips for playing in sub-zero:
- Layers – today I wore a t-shirt, a base layer, my thickest hoodie, a body warmer, leggings, tracksuit bottoms and possum fur gloves. My sister also wore her scarf.
- Learn to play with gloves on – this is difficult at first but an essential technique that must be honed. I either use my possum fur ones or a pair of rowing gloves. The rowing gloves are easier to play in but the finger tips are cut off so if it is below -1 I normally go for possum fur. My sister has a pair of rugby gloves which are quite good too.
- From the moment you get out of the car keep moving – this doesn’t mean run around lots, it means constantly clench and unclench your fingers and toes to stop them going numb.
- If you are playing a match don’t be stupid – last winter my sister was playing on a court that was basically an ice rink and her opponent fell over and hit her head on the tarmac. Luckily she was ok and actually went on to win the match so it kind of paid off but if you’d rather not see stars then don’t sprint on ice.
- If you see a court covered in ice go and practice you skating – much cheaper than the real thing and less people to knock over.
Playing in the rain is also a junior circuit speciality in the UK. Once you get to the point where you can’t get any wetter there is not much point in stopping. Tactically your game has to adapt, drop shots won’t bounce and slices will skid like you’ve never seen before. My sister also once played the final of a tournament in the middle of a snow storm. Actually the funniest thing about that tournament was that it was sponsored by a hair salon so the prizes were handed our by a couple of hairdressers who I’m not sure really knew what had hit them.