29 January

The streets are paved with tennis

Rad Swierkowski

Today, 31st January 2020, Britain leaves Europe. Whether you are rejoicing or downhearted, we are determined that Local Tennis Leagues will always be a home for everyone. In this special Meet the Player interview, we talk to Rad who, homeless in Paris, found a 50 Euro note on the metro floor. He used it to by a ticket to London and here, thanks to friends of friends and now tennis, his life has turned around

I used to watch a lot of tennis as a teenager, but the sport just wasn’t accessible to me at the time. Growing up in Poland, coaching, court fees, and tennis equipment were very expensive - it was an exclusive sport. One tennis lesson cost between 50 to 120 zloty (28 euros), the equivalent to one week's food for a family of four. So my parents signed me up for more affordable activities like karate, swimming, and table tennis.

At the age of 19, I began travelling. Since 2005, I have explored Japan, Egypt, Spain, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, France, and much of the United States. This has been both enriching and life changing. After I arrived in France – where I intended to settle – I ran out of money and became homeless. On the surface this could be read as tragic, but it was actually a blessing in disguise. I learned the depth of my character and so much about human nature.  I slept most of time in the metro station but for some reason I had this voice in my head saying that everything will be good eventually. I was eating biscuits from what money I had left and drinking water from bathroom taps. I learned that people simply don’t care unless they see possible gain for themselves or, as a few did, have true integrity. 

Then one morning, when I really had nothing, walking up the stairs at the metro I found a 50 Euro note. It was just lying there. I made a decicion, I'd use it to purchase a one-way ticket to London.  When I arrived in the United Kingdom I had seven pounds left in my pocket. I slept in Victoria Station. Half of my luggage was stolen during the night. I bought some cheap biscuits and I used the rest of the money for an internet connection to email a friend back in Poland hoping he could connect me with friends in London.

After a few days luckily my friend responded with one contact and a phone number. I asked someone on the street if I could use their phone because I didn’t have one and arranged to meet. The money I had left was exactly enough for one way tube ticket to Archway. My friend's friend helped me to find my first construction job and after that I got to know more people and make more contacts which allowed me to pursue different types of work with better pay. I survived!

I have now been living in London for more than 10 years and am currently studying economics. Last July I purchased my first tennis racket and started playing with a colleague at Paddington Recreation Ground in Westminster. It felt amazing being outside, hitting that yellow ball, breathing in deeply and enjoying the sun. I tend to spend too much time indoors and tennis changed that for the better.

I like the way tennis is a sport that requires asymmetric movements and a lot strength, balance, and good footwork. It’s a complete sport that keeps me active and healthy. Other than the general positivity I feel as I play, I love it being an outdoor sport. I also enjoy playing against different opponents and using various styles. 

Throughout the past 6 months, I have practiced a lot.  I play every day and study a lot of YouTube videos, and watching the pros which has helped me refine my skills.  This motivated me to join local tennis leagues – to test my skills and see if I can apply them to competitive matches.

My style of play lies between counterpuncher and baseliner. Recently, I have added serve and volley to my repertoire when I play against more aggressive opponents. Taking the ball on the rise helped me to beat much stronger players.

Being in the league has definitely improved my game. It pushed me to become stronger mentally when I lose a point or a game. What’s more, it encouraged me to remain focused and do all the right things during matches, like footwork. Overall, I believe it is essential to get into position early and strike the ball with power and control.

I try to play as much as possible and to maintain a balance between practice sessions and matches. Using slow motion recording helped me tremendously with my techniques and footwork, not to mention highlighting my inefficient serving motion. (Friends who are much better players recorded me using a tripod recording at 120fsp). Playing against stronger opponents showed me which areas of my game needed more work and improvement. Now, my backhand slice has come together so it floats less and has more back-spin.

Would I recommend the league? Absolutely. The league is great way to meet new players who are at a similar skill level. More broadly, it helps with your mental approach and the transition from practice sessions to friendly competitive matches.  I feel like finally now at the tender age of 34 I’ve finally been given an opportunity to live my childhood dream of playing tennis and winning games and I’m not ready to put down my racket anytime soon. 

Rad plays in the Highbury Fields Tennis league. The next singles rounds begins 26th March 2020