27 March 2020

It's a family affair

John Walker

John Walker may be a 67-year-old grandfather but he still has high ambitions for his tennis. Having made it into the top 500 in the ITF world rankings in his age group, his next goal is to make it into the UK top 20. As he says, you are never too young or too old to learn, even if Covid-19 has put tennis on hold for now!

I am John Walker, aged 67, married with 3 children and 2 grandchildren. I have played tennis all my life and an now currently playing on the ITF seniors tour (in the 65 + age category). Tennis is a lifelong sport. In the photo above I am coaching my granddaughter the single handed, left handed, topspin backhand. You are never too young or too old to learn.

During the first part of my life, I played tennis very little. I grew up in Stoke, a northern town of coal mines and pottery factories where tennis and tennis clubs were not even a distant dream. 

At university, in Edinburgh, I learned to play squash. Very quickly I found I had a gift for it and so started a 15-year love affair with the game. I played at club and tournament level until I was 33 but by then we had young children which made playing squash at a high competitive level difficult. I played tennis at the same time as squash and continued on playing throughout my life. I played at Temple Fortune and Harrow Lawn Tennis clubs for many years, playing in the North Middlesex league. Since moving to St Albans, in 2013, I play my club tennis in Hertfordshire. I have also played on the ITF seniors tour for the last 5 years. 

I would describe my tennis style as competitive and energetic. I am extremely fit, not just for age, but in open competition as well. My style of play and speed about the court owes much to my squash playing days. I play with a lot of slice and spin. Many times I am told that when players play against me the ball always comes back.

We are an extremely sporty family. I have completed the London Marathon 3 times and done over 150 5k parkruns. Two of my children Christopher and Mel at the age of 30-ish are now faster than I am, as Father Time catches up, but only by a few minutes (I am still sub 25).

I have instilled sports into all our family. This is me (on the right) with my wife and 3 young children from a few years ago. Here I might embarrass Chris my son. Chris in this photo is front left. Those of you from Highbury Fields or the Islington Tennis Centre may recognise Chris, who is now 32, and plays in group 1 in the singles at both Highbury and the ITC. Chris and I play at the same level now (I would have wiped him out years ago - I told you I was competitive!). Chris' singles game is identical to mine, not surprising after all these years of playing together. Though he tells me he is more handsome and better looking.

My greatest recent achievement is breaking into the ITF world top 500 for my age group. My aim is to get into the top 20 in GB. To date, 27 is my highest ranking. My best win was against the 15th ranked player in the country. My most memorable match was at Bournemouth in 2019 in the GB clay court championships where I played Frits Raijmakers the Dutch captain and world no 1 in my age group. In the photo below I am on the right. I won my opening service game to go 1-0 up. Sadly it was the first and last game I won. He was very good. My memory is that he didn’t knock me off the court. We had many long games and deuces but he was ultra-consistent and made few unforced errors. He also had a very good 2nd serve. This goes to prove the coaching mantra that “you are only as good as your second serve”.

So on to Local League tennis. I have seen this from a father's perspective. My son Chris and his girlfriend Sab both play at Highbury Fields and at Islington Tennis Centre. Chris plays singles and also mixed doubles with Sab. They both love both the tennis and the camaraderie. Chris sends me a video after every league game he plays. Like father like son - Chris is very competitive. I have been down to Highbury Fields to meet him, before we go together to watch Arsenal play (we are season ticket holders on the North Bank). I have met several of the fellow players at Highbury Fields.

Fast forward to March 2020. Chris and I played North Middlesex doubles tennis together for several seasons when he was a teenager. We very rarely, if ever, lost. Since then we have played family tennis together but not competitively. Chris asked me to join him again to play men’s doubles tennis at Highbury Fields. We were placed in group 1 and are raring to go. Then Covid 19 took over. Play is now suspended. Watch this space.

When play can resume, you can join the Highbury Fields Tennis League here