#backoncourt, here's what to expect and how to play safe!
Next week the first of our lockdown-easing rounds begin and some of you have already got back on court. So what to expect? Local Tennis Leagues' Nigel describes his experience of playing today and we give you the essential lowdown on the new rules you must observe!
Tennis the new normal
Check the LTA's guidelines here
League rule changes for "unlock" rounds
For the immediate future, anticipating high court demand, all rounds in all leagues will permit "short format" matches. These matches will count toward bonus points.
Walkovers will not normally be granted where a player cites shielding, self-isolation or other Coronavirus-related reasons for short-notice cancellations of a match.
Players must abide by all local venue rules. These include changes to the booking arrangements and shortened playing windows to allow for safe court changeovers.
Inevitably, the questions run through your mind as you walk to the courts for your first hit in eight weeks. Will I still be able to make a backhand? Will I be able to hit the ball at all? How have we all survived so long without Greggs? And what are all these new rules of tennis engagement?
My visit to the courts was for a hit with Hit, my long-suffering coach and I was in safe hands. Did I know the "new rule"? "You don't touch the balls." It is strange at first, but with coaches filling their courts back-to-back across the day, the small risk that the tennis balls themselves might transmit the virus is not worth taking. In a match, each player should bring their own, marked balls so they can serve with their own set. In a lesson, it does mean (unless you remember to bring your own balls) serving practice is given a miss. The compensation is plenty of opportunity to brush up on returns.
Unlock: The closed signs are removed, and the chains opened
After eight weeks off for coach and pupil, this was a back-to-basics run through of the core skills. Apparently, and this will be true for the footballers too when they start playing again, it takes time for the brain to regain its competence at "seeing the ball" and I certainly had a few too many off-the-frame shots. But you will be reassured, you won't have lost the skills you spent all those years acquiring. (I once asked Tim Henman, returning after shoulder surgery, whether he had to relearn how to hit the ball. He is a very polite man but he did make it clear that he hadn't forgotten all he knew - though even he admitted "match fitness" was something else again.)
For me today, I was pleased at how the footwork held up - something I had been able to practise in my backyard. I even hit a few coach-defying cross-court forehands but can feel in my shoulder the rustiness of my one-handed backhand.
And for Hit, who kept all his pupils motivated with a series of excellent tennis videos, despite returning to the "office" on the hottest day of year so far, and pretty well not stopping since, he's pleased to be back. Lockdown was a fantastic opportunity to bond with his new baby, but - and she'll thank him for it when she is old enough to start swinging a racket - home for Hit, as for so many of us, is on court.
Nigel played at Highbury Fields, north London, home of our very first league. The new round begins on Thursday. Sign up here.