Growing up I played tennis in my back garden. I hit the ball against the back wall of the utility room and downstairs bathroom. I left the wall cracked, patchy and dirty. I accidentally broke a window too.
I used the wall as my opponent.
I served from the end of the lawn, then ran forward to use half the lawn as the court. The patio path surrounding the grass was deemed out of bounds.
I played with my neighbour, volleying the ball to each other over the dividing fence that made up the net.
I also played on grass courts as a teenager with a school friend. We were evenly matched, although he took the sport more seriously than me. In 2005 we entered the Essex Junior Lawn Tennis Championship held in Southend-on-Sea as a doubles team. We failed to progress.
At university I was a member of the tennis team and in the try-out session I was designated an ‘advanced player’. I never represented the university in matches but I enjoyed playing on the outside hard courts at the sports centre. I had success against numerous colleagues and friends.
My greatest achievement was when I won a men’s singles tournament at my university in May 2011. Although I lost to the two best students, both tall with fast serves, I beat a stubborn player to take home the plate trophy. I later partnered with him to become runners’ up in the men’s doubles tournament.
I also discovered singles and doubles short tennis, which is played with smaller rackets and a spongy ball on an indoor badminton court. It is so quick that there is little time to think. Plus it encourages players to hit the ball as hard as possible, which made it exciting.
As I developed I learnt how to serve with more speed, use topspin, grip a two-handed backhand and hit the ball deeper and into the corners.
But most of all tennis taught me the importance of foot placement. Tennis relies on control of the racket and ball, which is only possible with strong posture and a well-balanced position on the court. Tennis further developed my ability to extend my swing and react quickly, usually as the lawn in my garden was uneven and the bounce unreliable.
Unsurprisingly, I loved running for the ball from one side of the court to the other, or to the net and back. Unbeknown to me at the time, tennis was an effective fitness routine.