28 February 2020

Beating Agassi, the washing-line winner

Leila Panesar Morris

In two and half years, Leila has gone from a beginner to a highly accomplished player. All that practice as a child, hitting balls over the washing line with her siblings has paid off!

I started playing tennis about two and a half years ago. I'd always enjoyed watching tennis growing up. My siblings and I used to pretend to be Sampras and Agassi when we were hitting balls over the washing line in our garden! But I hadn't really played tennis apart from in the odd PE lesson at school. 

When I moved to a different area, I found out there was a local tennis club and went for a couple of lessons to try it out. Then started having group lessons with other beginners. I loved it, and the group I started playing with are still great friends of mine now. I progressed through different levels of group lessons then started playing for one of the ladies' teams at my club.

I like that tennis is both a physical and a mental challenge. As you get better there are always more things to work on, both technically and tactically and I like this; your work to improve as a tennis player is never finished. I also like that aspects of people's personalities can be revealed on the tennis court and that every opponent plays slightly differently so you constantly have to adjust your game while still trying to play well and impose your own game style.  

I've met so many lovely people through tennis, of all ages and backgrounds. It's provided me with friends in my local area and further afield and with a good network of people to call on if I want a friendly singles or doubles hit. 

For me, tennis never feels like a chore or exercise that I'm making myself do. Even if I'm playing badly, I never want to get off the court.

I started playing in the Local Tennis Leagues after a friend sent me a link to an article about them. At that point I'd only been playing for about a year, but was keen to play more singles matches - a lot of club tennis is doubles, which I also enjoy, but I love playing singles and knew that more match play would be good for my game. 

I am naturally an aggressive player and I like to hit the ball hard. It's important to try to find a balance of aggression and consistency as you get better and play better people. You have to resist the temptation to just push the ball around against opponents who might give you errors and try to play your own game, but equally you don't want to pull the trigger unnecessarily in a point if it leads to you making too many mistakes. 

Playing in the Local Tennis Leagues has massively improved my game. I've had to learn how to play against lots of different types of opponent and it has given me a lot more match experience. This is helpful as if you're behind in the score but have come back from that sort of position before, you know you can do it again. 

Also, playing in the leagues has meant that I've had to get used to playing on different court surfaces and in different venues. Playing against some good opponents has also taught me to try to focus more on the process of improving rather than results. I used to lose a lot of matches before I started winning, but I think this actually helped me a lot. It's a cliche, but you do learn more from losses than from wins.

I wanted to improve my match tactics by playing in the leagues and I've definitely done that, although there are always more things to work on! I'm pleased that I've improved my serve quite a lot since I started playing. This has definitely got me more free points in matches recently. I've also improved my LTA rating a lot through playing in the leagues, which is satisfying.

For me, my most memorable matches are the ones where I've had to battle hard to win, especially if I've been behind in the score. In the Wimbledon Park league in particular, I've had some really good and experienced opponents who will get everything back and won't make many errors. They really force you to play well to win so I'm proud of those close three-set victories.

I would 100% recommend the league to anyone who wants to improve their match play, meet different people and experience playing on different surfaces and in different local venues. One of the best things about the league for me has been meeting fellow tennis geeks. One of my opponents came back to my club for a drink after our match and we had a long conversation about different types of tennis strings!

Join next round of the Wimbledon Park Tennis League, which begins on 2 April here, and the next round of the Richmond Park Tennis League, also beginning 2 April here. The deadline for both is 30 March.