By Claire Stanley
I remember the very first time I properly heard the “thwack” of a tennis ball against a racket: it was 1993 and Pete Sampras was about to win his first of seven Wimbledon championships.
I was eight years old and had always been vaguely aware of tennis on in the background during the summer months – we were pretty much limited to the coverage of the grass tournaments in our house because back in 1993 online streaming wasn’t a thing – but this was the first time my interest was piqued. I sat down with my tennis fanatic mum (she loved Pete Sampras) to watch the match, and I was hooked.
I couldn’t believe how fast the ball flew through the air, the gasps of the centre court crowd, the squeals of delight as Sampras and Jim Courier battled their way through not one, but two tiebreaks over the course of a four set thriller. My mum grinned at me as Sampras lifted the trophy: “I knew as soon as he beat Agassi he would be the champion.” – she wasn’t wrong.
Two years later I discovered Steffi Graf; her Wimbledon final victory over Arantxa Sánchez Vicario remains to this day one of my favourite tennis matches ever. The 16-minute-long 13-deuce game at 5-5 in the third and final set was absolutely mind-blowing and I would urge anyone who hasn’t seen that match to give it a watch – you won’t regret it.
Since then my love for tennis has gone from strength to strength. I wish I could say my skills had done the same but sadly I am very much an armchair observer, with the double fault being my most impressive shot. Sailing back into primary school on a high from Wimbledon 1993 I immediately signed myself up for after-school tennis coaching. Unfortunately for me, all the kids in my class apparently had Wimbledon fever and places were extremely limited, with names eventually having to be drawn from a hat. I still feel very hard done by that the slip of paper with my name on it remained firmly at the bottom of said hat – who knows what I could have become! (And no, it never crossed my mind to actually go for lessons at the local tennis club!)
Over the years I enjoyed watching as much tennis as I could with my mum – it was one of her favourite things to do and, like me, she was very much an armchair fan but really understood the game and appreciated the sheer beauty some players brought to the court. We never really had a “favourite” – although as I’ve mentioned previously, my mum did have a soft spot for Sampras – and just enjoyed great tennis. Of course when Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski emerged we always cheered for them, and we – along with pretty much everyone else – absolutely loved Roger Federer, but it wasn’t until 2004 when a young man from Dunblane won the US Open Juniors championship that I really got hooked on one particular player. And that young man was, of course, Andy Murray.
But that’s a story for another day…
Claire is one of the trio of co-hosts of Murray Musings – a podcast dedicated entirely to Andy Murray. As her first article for Popcorn Tennis suggests, she’s quite old and has been an avid tennis fan for many, many years. A former journalist who now masquerades as a communications and public affairs specialist, she still has high hopes she’ll get to interview Andy Murray one day. Ever the competitor, Claire’s favourite thing about tennis is there always has to be a winner. You can follow her on twitter @brooksybradshaw if being spammed daily about her love for Andy Murray floats your boat.