9 May 2019

With a little help from a friend

Neither a borrower of a lender be, unless we a talking tennis rackets. Having to play with a strange racket may or may not put you on the road to defeat, but lending your opponents a racket can be one of tennis' most sporting gestures. So how do you make the best of the opportunity?

Chelmsford League player Edward Ogbebor, with grateful thanks to his opponent, explains how he took his chances with a borrowed racket

I must confess it felt devastatingly hopeless seeing the strings on my racket tear just before the start of a match and against a first time opponent. My Wilson Blade 98L has been almost like a third arm ever since I got it it last December and having only just began the game of tennis three or four months prior. I have come to love playing with it and anytime I take a hold of it, I just feel like I am capable of doing anything.

My confidence and hopes dropped as I walked over to the nets to inform Steve about my predicament. At the back of my mind, I was dreading the thought of having to play with a totally different spare I had and one which I have never played with. Low and behold, there was a glimmer of hope as Steve walked over to his bag and brought out a new Wilson Blade 98. The only differences being the length (mine is the 98L) and the bigger grip (his had a double grip). He jokingly handed it to me saying he hoped he's not going to regret it and we both laughed.

A massive weight was lifted off my chest. I was so glad I could play with a familiar tool, but soon came to the realisation of what little variances in specs meant, as I double faulted on far too many serves (shorter racket) and had to play cautiously due to the bigger grip. In actual fact, the grip felt good but my usual handling positions felt totally different. 

By and large we had a great game with lots of wonderful rallies. I overcame the fear of playing with a strange racket by simply just getting in the zone, focusing on play and enjoying the game. But I know now to always have a second racket of the very same specifications handy, so as not to have my confidence/belief dented as it could very well mean the difference between not just winning a game, but actually enjoying or having fun, which is what tennis is all about.

I applaud Steve for his true sportsmanship and sense of humour. The spirit of the league I would say, is the forging and fostering of new friendships/acquaintances through tennis.

Edward Ogbebor bt Steve Wilson (May 8) 6-2, 6-4

Well done Steve in our Chelmsford league who stepped into the breach when his opponent Edward broke a string by offering his spare. And well done Ed, who despite the borrowed racket, went on to win the match.

"Edward had broken a string in the warm up and I always carry two rackets which are the same and it just so happened that his racket was the same as mine (with a different grip)," Steve told us after the match.

"It’s a competition and we want to play and win as many matches as we can so lending him my spare was the obvious thing to do. As a result it turned out to be a very competitive match with some excellent shots and first class tactical play, with great sportsmanship from start to finish. Obviously I would have liked to have won but otherwise I couldn’t have asked for a better match with such a really nice opponent."

Edward was lucky - Steve's racket was just about a perfect fit, but players aren't always that fortunate.

When LTL's Nigel turned up for a match last week he realised he had left his much-loved Volkl at home. All he had was a very different, rather bashed-up Prince that was my emergency spare. So how do you cope with the panic of not having your trusty wand, and is there anything you can do to make the best of it?

Playing with a Borrowed racket

If you are really organised, or a pro, you will have one or more spares with you at all times. Ideally these will the the same make and model as your main racket and strung to the same tension (the pros may keep alternative rackets strung to different tensions to suit the conditions, but your best bet is a like-for-like reserve). But what if you are being forced to borrow a racket you have never played with before?

Don't panic: it is easy to psyche yourself out of a match. Even if the racket is clearly not to your liking, your opponent will still need to win the match. And you never know, the strange beast in your hands may have a little magic of its own.

Do what you can to make it your own: if you use a dampener, and you are swapping rackets because your strings have broken, don't forget to transfer it to your borrowed tool. 

Get to know the racket: if the switch happens before the match starts, take full advantage of the warm up. See if you can tell how the racket plays. If your balls are going long, make a small adjustment to your swing. Test it on serve and try a few volleys. You are not going to find out everything you need to know but you should get some information you can use.

Go back to basics: never is the shape of your shot, your footwork and court positioning more important than when you are coming to terms with a stranger's racket. Keep your eye on the ball, remember the "high to low" basics of shot construction, use spin to maximize control and give yourself clearance over the net.

Adapt your play: if you really can't get your top-spin backhand working, slice!

The etiquette of lending

If your opponent breaks a string or has come to the match without their racket, you don't have to lend your racket. Indeed, you could probably claim the match as a walkover. But most players are as generous as Steve was and being sporting  is the very essence of tennis. 

If you are the borrower, best not to critique the racket as too old, too new, too stiff, too heavy or too whatever. As well as being a tad ungrateful, no-one likes a player who gets their excuses in early! And of course, remember to drive carefully - bumps and scrapes are all very well with your own racket, but not with your generous opponent's spare.