15 August 2019

Pulling out the stops!

Jonathan Bunney

Jonathan, a professional organist discovered that he could put his musical skills to good use on the tennis court. More importantly, his tennis has helped him overcome serious health issues, won him a host of new friends and taken him across Europe to play tournaments

Tennis has been a welcome addition to my life. I was never a sporty child and could not have dreamed of ever becoming a tennis player. Suffering with Crohn’s Disease always made physical activity problematic, especially during my teenage years when I had to undergo three major operations. In 2008, I had a further operation and after six months I recovered and casually started hitting a ball with one of my best friends, at the age of 28. Having been on steroids for my illness from an early age, weight-bearing exercise seemed a good idea. I had always enjoyed watching Wimbledon on the television so I concluded tennis would be my best option. 

I always won our matches in the beginning but then he started to understand my game and the tables were turned. I decided the time had come to do something about this and I searched for a coach. Over time I began to win on a more regular basis; I have remained undefeated when playing him since 2014!

I have now weekly tennis lessons and play or train two to three times a week. I participate regularly in Local Tennis Leagues and GLTA international tournaments (Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance), so tennis is a very important part of my life. I was delighted to win my third singles title in Hamburg recently, the venue of my first ever GLTA main draw match victory two years ago (I was then promptly dispatched in the quarter final). Back then, I never imagined I’d be bold enough to win a match, yet alone a tournament. 

There are so many different ways to hit a tennis ball and I love the fact that you have to evolve your game every time you play a different opponent or on a different surface. The fact that the outcome of a tennis match is never a certainty makes it one of the most exciting sports. 

The social part of tennis has been a huge plus for me; I have made some great friends, particularly though Local Tennis Leagues and the GLTA, (many GLTA members also participate in the Local Tennis Leagues) which feels almost like another family. 

I enjoy the fact that you never stop learning. From my experience working as a professional musician, there are so many connections and similarities to performing in a concert and playing a tennis match, especially on the mental side. 

The health benefits are amazing. Just over ten years ago, I had the onset of osteoporosis and I would like to think that the weight-bearing aspect of tennis has helped me to strengthen my bones and to restore my bone density to where it should be for someone of my age. Now that I am approaching 40, however, I appreciate playing on softer surfaces. I love playing on clay and have had most of my tournament successes on this surface. Over the summer, I played more on grass than any other year; it has been a wonderful journey of discovery, learning how to adapt my game to the intricacies and challenges of grass court tennis. This was thanks to the Golders Hill Park League.

I joined initially the Lincoln’s Inn Fields League, which was close to where I work; it is a lovely venue in the heart of London. Since my first league, I have played in several others, and I enjoy how each of the leagues has its own ambiance and atmosphere, often in beautiful locations. I have, on occasion, sometimes been guilty of taking part in too many leagues at once! 

In recent years, I have been fascinated with ambidexterity. Since the age of 13, I have played the organ, an instrument which demands a high level of coordination between both hands and feet.  I discovered that this may be something I could utilise as part of my tennis matches. After watching several re-runs of Monica Seles matches, I started playing double-handed on both sides and suddenly discovered that not only was I able to strike and direct the ball with more confidence, but over time it gave me the opportunity to hit the ball with greater power, allowing me to complement my defensive game with the ability, at times, to attack. 

Another reason for the change was my profession; I am so reliant on my hands (and feet) and the likelihood of wrist injury seemed less with the added security of the extra hand, taking away part of the impact of the ball hitting the racket. I have never looked back and I am very grateful to my then coach, Oliver Biles, for his support and patience during the development of this slightly unorthodox style of play. 

My game has improved undoubtedly thanks to the Local Tennis Leagues. Having the opportunity to return faster paced serves; learning to create my own pace on the ball; dealing with slices and players that retrieve every single ball has all been part of my Local Tennis Leagues journey. From my experience, the best way to improve is by playing people who are at a more advanced level and this is something which the leagues have helped me genuinely to achieve. 

The leagues have inspired me also to continue with my gym membership. The physical demands of tennis are numerous; I cannot think of another sport that uses every aspect of the body in the same way that tennis does and I have certainly discovered how crucial it is to stay fit away from the tennis court in order to maintain your level of play.

Possibly the most important thing that I have been pleased to work on since participating in the leagues has been the mental side of tennis. Over the past year, I believe the mental aspect of my game has made me a stronger player. I do not have a killer shot that I can always rely on to help me out of trouble; I guess not many people do, so having a strong, mental attitude is the next best thing; that, and being a consistent player are two very important aspects of my game.

I would definitely recommend Local Tennis Leagues. They are a great opportunity to develop your skills as a player; to meet new people and often to embark on a journey of lifelong friendships. Tennis is that special sport that can really bring people together and the Local Tennis Leagues are at the heart of that foundation.

The next round of the Docklands Tennis League runs from 29 August to23 October Join here by Monday 26 August.