15 May

Tennis, it's just dynamic chess!

Winston Balfourth

After 17 years out of the game, Winston says having Local Tennis Leagues has been a godsend and having got back into playing tennis regularly, he is not going let anything derail his game again! 

As a child, I played a lot of sports, and alongside football, tennis was my favourite. I was also lucky in that there were 10 local tennis courts close to where I lived. I played with friends on the local public courts and the park keepers would often let us play for free as we were obsessed, especially during the summer holidays when we would be at the courts all day. At the end of my road there was also a big wall next to a convent which we often used to knock up against. 

Tennis for me has always been a combination of athleticism and strategy. It is very much like a dynamic chess game where you try to outwit your opponent but also rely on your athleticism to keep your opponent on their toes, to get yourself out of difficult situations and to push for openings and victory.

When I got back playing again, after a break of nearly 17 years, I was playing the same person once or twice every 4 to 6 weeks. I knew that I wanted to get back to how I used to play but wasn't playing often enough to make the necessary improvements. By chance I was looking online to play against more players and came across Local Tennis Leagues. I saw that there were many leagues in and around my area so took the opportunity to join.

The match that has been the most memorable was one that I lost 2 and 2 in the Waltham Forest League. It was against a player who hadn't dropped a set in two rounds. I felt I played the best tennis since I started playing regularly again and that match gave me the confidence to believe that I would improve. One statement my opponent made - "You will get a lot better the more you play" - really inspired me.

My game has come on leaps and bounds since joining the league. At first there were so many elements of my game that needed improving. Since then, I have found that my overall standard and consistency has got better. I would consider myself more of an all-court player than anything else. I am happy rallying as an aggressive baseliner but do like to get to the net when I can.

I have also managed to get introduced to the great coaches at West Ham Park, Mario and Jorge, who have also helped my game significantly. I had never received any coaching before so their insights also made a significant difference to my overall tennis. Their key words to me were, don't be afraid, play your game with the shots you know and don't inhibit myself. I might make a few errors but they said if I stuck to the principles that I was being taught, then things would improve. Need I say more?

Years ago, when I wasn't playing tennis, I took up running (I have run over 24 marathons and a similar number of half marathons) so during the lockdown, I have been out running most days, putting in a lot of mileage and letting the wind take me wherever especially as there are so few cars on the roads in the morning and the pollution is significantly reduced. Rather than run alongside the canals and parks which I normally do, I have incorporated a lot of road running into my routine on routes that I wouldn't normally take.

During the last couple of months, I have also enrolled for a few online courses especially as my work project was put on ice due to Covid-19. The courses are in areas where I wanted to develop professionally but now find that I have more time to concentrate on them. I spend a few hours a day on these courses.

Of course coping wouldn't be complete without family and a little bit of tennis. I have done plenty of shadow tennis swings with a book taped to my racket. It was a tip I got off one of the tennis channels on YouTube. I am doing shadow swing routines most days for up to thirty minutes in total across a few separate sessions throughout the day.

Cooking and reading are also favourite pastimes so of course I have done plenty of both. Any type of food works for me and I will often fuse many different styles. I will read literally anything but love a good sci-fi or fantasy book. 

The league is a great way to meet new people and stay fit and I have nothing but positive things to say about it. It is competitive but almost everyone I have played has been really friendly and I have played many of my opponents outside of the leagues. I have met so many great people through the leagues and many I count as friends. I also recommended the leagues to friends that I played with years ago.

The Lee Valley Tennis League should start again in June or July. When it does, you can join here!