Tennis Origin Story #2: Jack Edward

By Jack Edward

It all started 18 years ago. 

My mum dropped me off in Stamperland, a suburb on the outskirts of Glasgow, to try my hand at tennis for the first time. I picked up my racket, set foot on the blaes courts (Scotland’s finest version of clay) and started hitting a few balls.

The feelings it inspired in me…  Tedium. Indifference. Disinterest.

Who in their right mind would want to hit a wee yellow ball back and forth all day?

So, em, yeah, sorry, let’s start again. I was never forced into loving tennis – instead, our relationship grew naturally due to the irresistible charm of Andy Murray.

It all started 10 years ago. My mum gifted me a ticket to a Davis Cup tie at Braehead Arena with the caveat that we supported Andy from start to finish.

The speed of the ball. The atmosphere. The swearing. It was an entrancing spectacle that inspired me to get out there and do it myself.

From there, playing and Andy became an addiction. I’d get myself down to the tennis club to knock that wee yellow ball back and forth three or four times a week – the thrill of saving a match point, the adrenaline rush of nailing a forehand down the line, the competition, the community, all of it constantly drawing me back for more.

As for the Andy addiction – well, who could keep their eyes off of Andy over the next few years? Stomaching a heartbreaking Wimbledon loss was quickly rewarded with a jaw-dropping Olympic gold medal followed swiftly by a stroke-inducing US Open title. I remember being in a wee pub in Barcelona when Andy won Wimbledon (seemingly the only Scots for miles going by our unreciprocated celebrations), going mental court-side when Andy lobbed Goffin in Belgium (that’s me below doing the cheesy thumbs up), staying up late at a bar in Krakow to watch Andy win his second Olympic title and sitting in court 2 watching Andy dispatch Milos on the big screen in 2016 – so much adventure tied to the dour Scot’s crowning achievements!Image

Perhaps Andy started as a love born of nationalism rather than his tennis but it became clear to me I’d backed the right horse… Andy’s story is legendary: in the Golden Era of tennis, when the three greatest players of all time ruled their respective surfaces, a mere mortal from Dunblane cussed and scrapped his way to world #1, cementing his own spot among tennis’s elite.

It’s all those memories of David beating Goliath that are eternally etched into my memories, that will always inspire and motivate me to reach for more.

So that’s how it all started. Whether I was playing or watching, tennis had become a part of me – so last year, I accepted my fate, quitting my job in engineering to pursue my passion. I’m working hard to get a blog and podcast off the ground, never forgetting my roots by imbuing my work with stats and analyses aplenty. I keep myself afloat by coaching some kids, a gig I don’t think I’ll ever take for granted. 

I absolutely love it.

Sure, there are times where me and tennis haven’t gotten on (I still can’t serve for taffy). Sure, being an Andy fan nowadays is frustrating at the best of times. But there’s never any use in me denying it – this sport means so much to me! 

Hopefully it shines through in my work.

Speak soon,

Jack

Association of Terrible Principles

By Scott Barclay and Owen Lewis

It said a whole lot that the statement said nothing much.

A few paragraphs of puff-pastry wording that crumbled as you read it, flaking in your eyes as you scoured it looking for an acknowledgment of actual action that never really materialised, fading far too quickly into only a promise to merely monitor.

It seemed weak.

This was Andrea Gaudenzi’s spongy reply to Steve Simon’s trigger-pull over the question marks that continue to hang over the safety of a human being.

Simon, the head of the WTA, announced just yesterday that the lucrative Asian swing that comes with the turning of temperature and the browning of leaves every year would be suspended until free and open communication with Peng Shuai could be properly established.

The ATP chairman’s response has been just the opposite; a shanked Federer backhand the point after he struck a clean winner down the line. There was almost a pleading vibe to his message, an appeal for some sort of an understanding as to why exactly they weren’t going to stand and be counted. Mentions of the positive global influence that tennis has and the need for that to continue in spite of all else seemed coldly apathetic, especially coming as it did in the wake of such a clearly positive action of intent from across the aisle. 

Indeed, perhaps it’s not an aisle but more of a yawning chasm, a canyon that separates the ATP and the WTA in a moment that called for a combined showing of strength in the face of fear. The WTA undoubtedly hoped for help but find themselves alone and magnified by their willingness to stun the sporting world with confidence unshakable. 

Money over morals, is what the ATP is telling the world. Surely Andrea Gaudenzi isn’t happy with China’s total burial of Peng’s sexual assault allegations, but that doesn’t matter. If you don’t act in accordance with your morals, you may as well not have them at all. 

The ATP is fine with this. They want money. The journalist Simon Häring tweeted today that Shanghai Juss Event Management Co. Ltd., a 10% shareholder of the ATP, is affiliated with the Chinese state. Pissing off China means pissing off a shareholder and losing money. And this, evidently, is enough for the ATP to surrender their morals, leaving Peng Shuai to the CCP and saying “I hope you’re safe” rather than condemn the CCP’s actions.

The Chinese Communist Party has historically been unwilling to budge in clashes with sports organizations. In the case of Daryl Morey and the NBA in 2019, the CCP reacted so fiercely to a single Morey tweet about standing with Hong Kong protesters that the NBA made Morey fear for his job as it desperately tried to reclaim its lost revenue from Chinese advertising and streaming. 

Due to the rigidity of the CCP, support is needed alongside the WTA’s heroic stand. Tennis is a big product, a conglomerate of organizations on several different tours. One facet on its own doing the right thing is encouraging, but is hardly enough to make the CCP blink an eye. It’s the first chip to fall out of a brick wall, the first snowflake to melt on a thick scarf. A showing of unity when dealing with an issue of this genuinely life-altering magnitude would have underlined how serious the governing bodies of the sport we love are taking this.

So, how is it that the ATP is unwilling to stand behind its female counterpart, instead trying to hide behind brittle words that many were already saying two weeks ago? It is cowardly. Picture a team of people trying to bail water out of a flooding basement. The WTA works diligently, forming a smart plan of action and sticking to it, handing buckets smoothly up the stairs. The ATP fills a leaky thimble with water and runs out of the house. 

Comically enough, the stances of the tours can be summed up well by the bio of their Twitter accounts. #ThisIsTennis, reads the bio of the ATP Tour Twitter account. We aren’t just men playing tennis, we are tennis. It’s arrogance without follow-through. In contrast, the WTA account’s bio reads “Championing women to compete fiercely and live fully. We do it for the game”. And the WTA have lived up to those words.

The ATP, meanwhile, now has a pattern of cowardice in tennis politics. Credible domestic abuse allegations against Alexander Zverev in late 2020 were met with complete silence. Even today, months after Olya Sharypova released a second set of allegations that were even more harrowing, the ATP continues to market Zverev as if nothing happened. There is supposedly an investigation into the allegations, of which we have heard nothing since it was announced months ago. They have made clear that they value profit over principle. Any show of quality on the ATP’s behalf is strictly limited to the good shots their players produce on court. 

This could change easily. It wouldn’t have been hard to put out a stronger statement in support of Peng Shuai. But the spinelessness of the ATP has sent expectations hurtling through the ground and into Hell. 

As such, don’t count on the ATP redeeming itself anytime soon. 

Tennis Origin Story #1: Pauline Makk

By Pauline Makk

It all started when a young, shy girl was first brought to tennis lessons at the tender age of four. She was quick and had great hand-eye coordination. The coaches took her parents aside and told them that she was leaps and bounds ahead of many others her age. 

That little girl was me. 

However, that story abruptly ends there. For about the next 20 years. 

I don’t remember much from that experience but my parents explained that I didn’t have any interest in the sport, despite my reported “talent”. And so, as they didn’t want to force me to stay in the lessons, my potential tennis future came screeching to a halt. 

I went on to spend my childhood dabbling in gymnastics, achieving a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and being on school basketball and volleyball teams. 

But there was something about tennis that always beckoned. Perhaps it was the sheer power and media magnitude that professional female athletes held compared to other sports. Maybe it was the lengthy, intense gladiator showdowns that took place on the courts. Or perhaps it was the technical skill combined with the high- intensity athletic ability that drew me back in. 

Looking back now, it’s clear to see that it was all three—combined with another hundred reasons. 

The Williams sisters. Sharapova. Federer. Nadal. Kournikova. Roddick. Sampras. Agassi. These are the names that I had etched into my memory. Each of these athletes have their own unique stories, filled with triumphs and struggles. As a teenager and throughout my early 20s, I began to follow tennis more steadily and learn more about their individual paths. 

Fast forward to 2020 when I finally decided to pick up a racquet again. Rain or shine, every day was spent practicing—against a wall, on the court, alone, or with a partner—I simply couldn’t get enough. Tennis is such an introspective, and almost meditative, sport; where the mental game is just as important as the physical game. I began to learn so much about myself; how I dealt with the pressure of double faulting or how I was a better defender than I ever imagined myself to be. 

Tennis has helped me to be grateful for many experiences in my life: being able to play with my dad every morning, later retelling the match to my mom (who doesn’t have much interest in tennis but is a wonderful listener, bless her), having access to public courts within walking distance, being physically capable to last through an entire match…the list goes on. 

Now that the Canadian winter has begun, I’ve had to put my racquet away for the next 4 or 5 months. But I find myself incorporating stretches and exercises into my workouts that will eventually help me with my amateur tennis game. Why? Because I’m learning that tennis is much more than a game. It’s a lifestyle. 

A photo of me (left) with my best friend at the Rogers Cup this year. We were very vocal during the Fognini v. Struff match!

Hitting a Second Serve

My first delivery, hard and flat and probably too ambitious — I’m not Roger Federer, after all — smacks the net, and just like that the butterflies are awake. My stomach lurches before I even walk over to pick up the ball from the errant serve. I see the returner take a step forward as they prepare to receive my second serve, adding another dagger of nerves into my already lacerated heart and stomach. Are they a good aggressive returner? I think desperately, trying to pore over the details of previous matches in that indeterminate liquid stretch between serves (there’s no defined amount of time you can take between serves in a club match, but you know when you cross the line). Nothing useful comes to mind, the part of my head that’s usually so cerebral when thinking about tennis has been wiped completely blank. 

The tip of my white-soled tennis shoe toes the baseline. Already? How did I walk over here so fast? I’m not ready for this. I’ve taken enough time that my opponent is starting to look at me with confusion in their eyes, which will compound into the anger that can translate into a fierce return winner if I dawdle much longer. I haven’t even had time to think about where this serve is going. Don’t psych yourself out, I admonish myself. Go with the serve you can trust. 

It’s time to leap into the nuanced chasm of trusting my serve and hoping my opponent won’t prey on it, but my body is momentarily on strike. My fingers won’t spiral outward into the motion that’ll drive the ball bouncing into the ground for the last time before it meets my racket (which suddenly seems to weigh a thousand pounds). That’s enough, I decide. MOVE!

At long last, I toss the ball, bend my knees, leap in the air, and strike the ball, reaching and straining and praying to find that balance between reckless aggression and nervy passiveness that sometimes seems to elude everyone on the second serve, even the very best — and the serve smacks the net. Not the top, either. A swarm of nerves attacked my arm midway through the motion, sapping it of strength and conviction just before the point of contact, sending the ball fluttering into the middle of that devilish rectangular network of squares resting smugly between its two immovable posts. Who said playing tennis without a net would be a bad thing? Double fault. 

The worst has happened. I let my head drop, my chin thumping wearily against my chest. I start the walk of shame up to the net to collect the ball, my heart beating with hot embarrassment and — is that grief? Yes, grief — every step of the way. 

Love-15 in the first game of the first set.