George Hinton dusts down his ancient tennis racket – only for it to be rejected! – and tries to master how to serve an ace once-and-for-all.
As I was driving to York the other day, hung over due to having had a few too many negronis at the O2 Media Awards the night before, I decided to stop for some fuel at official Olympic sponsor and purveyor of fine, healthy sustenance, McDonald’s.
It was lucky I did as while I was waiting for my McChickenlickindippins I checked my emails and discovered I was in fact due to be at The Academy gym, off Jennyfield Drive, in Harrogate, in precisely 45 minutes, and not the following day as I’d thought.
Continuing my quest for the body of an Olympian I stuffed my McLickinchickens down my gullet and nipped home to don my trainers, shorts and t-shirt.
I was due at The Academy to attend a tennis coaching session, which was to be the final instalment of my effort at having a go at various different sporting disciplines as part of Harrogate Borough Council’s Get Up and Gold scheme.
I’d been to The Academy once before and on entering I was reminded of how civilised it feels. Gyms these days seem to be just as much about somewhere to relax as they are about working out.
I was introduced to the gym’s head of tennis Chris Paraskos – who is a qualified Lawn Tennis Association senior coach – in the very comfortable on-site café. We then headed to the indoor courts, via the main gym, which was full of very healthy-looking, young people.
The Academy also has a number of flood-lit outdoor tennis courts, which are available to hire by non-members for the very reasonable sounding price of £6 an hour.
As well as me, there were three council staff members lucky enough to be getting the tennis tuition from Chris, who has been a tennis coach at The Academy since it opened in 1994.
I think we were all a little bit nervous about our tennis ability but Chris’s easy, enthusiastic demeanour put us all at ease very quickly.
I’d never been much good at tennis and I hadn’t hit a tennis ball for at least three years so I knew I was going to be rusty at best. However, it is a sport I always enjoyed when I did play. Although at times I found it very frustrating, when I did have a good rally or won a well-hit point I remember it being incredibly satisfying.
Tennis is something I wished I was better at so I had been looking forward to the tuition.
Thanks to the recent success of Andy Murray it is more popular than ever.
I’d brought my own racket which I’d owned for about 20 years. Chris had a look at it and said: “I’ve seen worse but it’s probably best you use one of ours.”
Assistant tennis coach Zoe Jeffery promptly handed me a shiny, new racket to use.
Chris, who is 55 but doesn’t look his age, asked if we were all fit and checked we didn’t have any physical niggles. I lied and said I was fine. I actually felt as stiff as a board due to attending a session with a personal trainer two nights earlier.
I had decided to get a trainer after the recent, shocking discovery that my waist had hit 36inches in M&S trousers.
The bad diet and sitting at a desk for hours on end, five-days-a-week probably doesn’t help either.
First up, Chris talked us through how to hit the perfect forehand. Interestingly, he explained the textbook movement for this had changed over the last 20 years. It had now become much more condensed and tight. As opposed to starting side-on and bringing your whole body round for the hit you stand facing the net, bring your arm back, strike the ball when it’s at your side with the strings at a slight downward angle so that the ball has top spin and goes over the net and back down, bring your arm up and your racket up over your left shoulder (if you are right-handed) so that your elbow points where you want the ball to go.
It seemed to work. After a lot of rallies I started to feel I was hitting the ball well, with the middle of my racket, and it was going where I wanted it to go.
Next up was something harder; what I (and most people) have always found the most difficult shot to master: the serve. I think I particularly struggle with serving because I have the coordination of a blind, drunk man. Throwing a ball up in the air while smoothly coiling up like a spring before bouncing up to hit said ball just doesn’t seem to work for me.
Chris explained that the best way was to use your body’s natural momentum and rhythm (what rhythm?). I was told to start off standing side-on to the court with my feet parallel to the baseline. I then had to start with my hands together, before pulling them apart and back together while throwing the ball in the air. I was then told to bend my knees before springing up and hitting the ball.
Even writing that makes me feel tired.
I did hit a couple of serves in at a decent pace but, suffice it to say, I didn’t have as much success as I had had with my forehand. Chris kindly shouted “ace” a couple of times in encouragement but I think I’ve got a long way to go before I’m at that level.
All-in-all, I found having tennis coaching very beneficial and I’m hoping to build on it by playing again at one of the public courts in the district in the coming weeks.
I’d recommend anyone to have a go.
Get out and play – playing tennis in your area
Encouraging people to take up tennis:
A number of national schemes have been set up to encourage people to take up tennis, both as a way of getting into the sport and getting fit.
Among these initiatives is All Play, of which most tennis clubs are a member. It enables anyone wishing to play a game of tennis but who doesn’t have a partner to set up a game.
For more information go to www.all-play.com
The governing body of tennis is the Lawn Tennis Association.
For more details go to www.lta.org.uk
tennis courts in the area:
As well as tennis courts at private gyms, many of which you can play on without being a member, there are also many public tennis courts across the Harrogate Borough Council, Leeds City Council and Hambleton District Council areas.
To find out where your nearest courts are it is best to visit your council’s website: