By Nick Carter
Hi, my name is Nick and this is my tennis origin story. I am 27 years old and I live near Stoke-On-Trent in the UK. I have many interests, but tennis is the one I probably sink the most time into.
Tennis has always been a part of my life. My mum always had Wimbledon on the TV, so I have faded memories of seeing the green grass and white lines on a 1990s screen. Whilst Dad also likes the sport, it was always the interest I share the most with Mum. I’ve been told that when I was very small, my parents made a makeshift tennis court in the back garden and play against each other, with me in the middle sat in my high chair “umpiring”. Sadly, there is no photographic evidence of this. However, it shows that I have always been up for watching tennis.
I honestly couldn’t tell you what drew me initially to watching two people hitting a small fuzzy ball across a net at each other. Maybe it was the bright colours, with green, yellow and white standing out from the television screen. But something always made me want to go out and hit a tennis ball like they did. Now, I only had a plastic racquet and a foam ball but every summer I would watch tennis then go and hit something against a wall. I would pretend I was playing against Pete Sampras, Tim Henman or Venus Williams. Although I gave it a go a few times growing up, I struggled to find a welcoming environment in local clubs and didn’t have any serious coaching until I was 15. Even now, I struggle to find someone to regularly compete against.
My love of tennis exploded as a teenager, specifically around 2007-08. There were two reasons for this. The first was that I finally saw a tennis player that really captured my imagination: Roger Federer. Before I watched him play, I hadn’t really appreciated all the game could be. I was taken in by his flowing movement, magnificent one-handed backhand and of course his killer forehand. It has to be said, I really liked his brand of being the old school player, the traditional gentleman. Interestingly, in the years since I’ve come to appreciate how for all this, Federer is actually a really aggressive and offensive player, ruthless when at his best. To my younger self, he was cool in the face of any challenge and this appealed to me.
The second reason was that I discovered the Eurosport UK Channel. My family had recently got a Satellite TV packageand one morning in 2007 I was flicking channels and I stumbled across the French Open. I hadn’t watched any tennis outside of Wimbledon before, so of course I stopped to watch. I was hooked, watching Justine Henin win yet again at Roland Garros and finally seeing how much Rafael Nadal was a threat to Federer. Then the Australian Open rolled round in 2008, and I remember being stunned seeing Novak Djokovic upset Federer and then beating this (to me) new kid called Jo-Wilfred Tsonga to win his first Grand Slam title.
By 2009, I was checking the results on the ATP Tour siteregularly, watching the Australian Open and Roland Garros on Eurosport and gorging on Wimbledon when it rolled round. I couldn’t watch the US Open as my family didn’t have Sky Sports (I had to go to someone else’s house to watch Andy Murray win in 2012). Not doing things by halves, I learned all I can about the history of the sport, creating a spreadsheet with all the major winners ever (which I still update to this day). You may have noticed I was only checking the ATP results. It wasn’t that I didn’t watch the women’s game but the rivalry between the “Big Four” and the GOAT debate had completely captivated me. Federer is still my favourite player, but I came to appreciate the physicality of Djokovic and Nadal, and being British I had to root for Murray. Actually, I always supported Murray in every match (apart from against Federer) as I wanted him to step out of the shadow of the other three.
By this point, I was becoming more appreciative of the nuances of the game, mostly because I was now playing it myself. I realised that it was more than playing style, that there was an intricate technique behind every shot. This is something I really like about tennis, and to be honest I don’t really see in the same way in other sports. There is always more thought than you think going into the shot, and these players choose and execute their plays in fractions of a second. I find this to be so unique. What else I find fascinatingis the dual mental and physical challenge of maintaining peak performance in one-on-one competition. However, when it comes down to it, what really draws me to the sport, the contests it creates are completely unique. I am always gripped by the rivalry taking place in that moment in time, waiting to see who will emerge victorious from the struggle. I still don’t fully understand all the technical aspects of how the game is played, if I am being really honest. But I can read a player’s body language, I can follow the passage of play, and I live for the competition. I watch tennis in the hope of the contest to come gripping my attention for the next few hours. I also watch tennis to see the next chapter in the personal journey of the players involved, whether it is to climb the mountain of greatness (like Djokovic or Serena Williams) or to win a small but significant victory on the day.
So, what am I excited for in tennis at the moment? I’m enjoying seeing a new generation finally able to compete against Djokovic and Nadal on the ATP Tour. I’m hoping that Roger Federer can end his career well and that Andy Murray can produce one last hurrah. Seeing this new crop of WTA Players coming through as well is absolutely fascinating. In particular, I’m thinking of players such as Iga Swiatek, Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff, Leylah Fernandez and of course Emma Raducanu. To be honest, I’m more excited for the future of women’s tennis than men’s tennis right now.
However, on an emotional level I am really looking forward to going to see tennis in person again. I finally got to take my mum to Wimbledon in 2018 and again in 2019, this time to sit in Centre Court. She had never been before, and to me this was a thank you to her for introducing me to this sport that has captivated me so much. We will always have tennis to share with each other, so even if I wasn’t obsessed with it now, I will continue to watch Wimbledon with her as I always have.