It is not the winning or losing that matters or even the taking part, it is what you learn from playing tennis that Gabriel has enjoyed. It's a philosophy that has taken him to the top of the group in Southwark & Borough in London
As a youngster, I was always into playing football but started playing tennis to keep exercising in the summer. I had two friends who used to play at the local club in Bournemouth and I joined them. We were quite competitive and had a little triangular tournament each summer. I never used to win!
I love the idea that you are playing against an opponent but, to a large extent, you are playing against yourself also. It teaches you a lot about accepting winning and losing, doing your best and your best not always being good enough. It also teaches the importance of managing your thought processes and how it is possible to defeat yourself without a ball being struck. A lot of these lessons are just as applicable in most other walks of life.
I had been playing on and off for years, mainly off. I had also been playing in five a side football teams and getting a team together seemed to get more difficult as each year passed. It seemed like a good idea to take up a sport where I only needed to organise myself. Playing the league ensured that I could get regular matches and increase the amount of exercise I was(n't) doing.
My style of play is as about as defensive as you can get! Over the years, my main strength has been being able to get as many balls back into play as possible. I have tried to be consistent and not make too many errors but I am also a bit of a blocker who doesn't put much pace on the ball. Unfortunately, that has got a lot harder as the years have gone by and I am now trying to change my style of play somewhat (definitely a work in progress).
Since being in the league, I think that I have improved small parts of my game. I definitely strike the ball a bit earlier than I used to. I think my backhand has improved from 'hopeless' to just 'bad' as well. I think that the more balls you hit, the more your game will improve in small ways that aren't obvious until you play someone that you have not played for some time. You learn from your losses and try work on obvious weaknesses that you detect in your game.
My first goal was to get as high in the Southwark and Borough League as I possibly could, so I was happy when I arrived in League 1 last year (since relegated!!).
My most memorable match would have been a losing one. Playing against an opponent who is much better than me, I was leading 5-1 in the second set, and a set up, and somehow managed to lose the match! I learned a lot from that match and have since managed to come back to win sets and matches from bad positions. It also taught me how much of tennis is in the mind, while I wasn't thinking about winning, I was probably playing as well as I had played all summer. As soon as I realised that I could win the match...
But the match was memorable for me because I played my best for the best part of two sets and managed to carry out the strategy that I had prior to the match.
I am happy to continue to work on aspects of my game, backhand, hitting with more topspin, slice and attacking the net more often. It is fun trying to learn these things and trying to bring more facets to your game which then give you more options during a match.
I would recommend the league without a second of hesitation. You get the chance to meet really nice people who are passionate about getting on court and playing. I've met so many great people since joining the league and there is a level for everyone. It isn't just about winning or losing, just competing and trying to do your best and play to your maximum, that is really satisfying. We can't all win but we can all do ourselves justice. I'd encourage anyone to join up and give it a go.
The next round of the Southwark and Borough Tennis League starts on October 10. To join, see here