As the world spotlight shines on Wimbledon, Gayle dreams of becoming the next Serena Williams and signs up for a tennis lesson.
Crack open the Pimms! Summer is officially here and we’re smack, bang in the middle of Wimbledon, the oldest and arguably most prestigious tennis tournament in the world.
If watching the likes of Serena Williams and Andy Murray in action has inspired you to don your whites, pick up a racket and, like me, take up the game for the first time, then you’ll be glad to hear it couldn’t be easier to get started.
Dundee is a priority area for Tennis Scotland and there’s a campaign to get more people playing the sport across the city, with an ongoing programme to refurbish and offer free use of courts and book sessions online.
Weekly “Tennis for Free” coach-led sessions – for all ages – start tomorrow from 1-3pm at Dawson Park and run until October. They include free coaching and use of equipment.
If you can’t make these, then don’t worry because coaching isn’t expensive – it’s £6 for an adult and £4.50 for a child for up to 90 minutes of instruction via Leisure and Culture Dundee.
Until now, my experience of tennis was pretty much watching it on TV – nothing more.
Hence, prior to my visit to Dawson Park for an hour’s session with coach David Anderson – head community tennis coach for Leisure and Culture Dundee – I was absolutely diabolical.
How do I know this? Well, of course, David wanted to see how I fared on the court without any guidance and so I dragged in Kevin McGinley of Leisure and Culture Dundee for a game.
Kevin had told me he was “genuinely useless” so it sounded like I had met my match.
Handing us our rackets and wheeling a boxload of balls onto the court, David signalled for us to crack on.
What followed was mortifying. I missed balls I’d tried to serve and receive, shot some way too far and generally stumbled around the place like a buffoon. I did, however, manage a few volleys, but my technique was dreadful.
I was also overcome by the need to make horrific facial grimaces – they were uncontrollable.
This resulted in some of the most unflattering pictures of myself I have ever seen. Quite a lot of cursing escaped me, too.
As for Kevin, he was slightly more skilled, but the pair of us were not helping one another to improve – at all.
Thankfully, David, 25, was more than happy to step in.
“Watching you helped me to see where you were making most mistakes and I reckon we should start with the serve,” he said.
“It’s a very important technique and one that many people struggle with.”
Handing me a ball, David then showed me how to stand – “as if you’re throwing a javelin; it’s the same mechanics” – and then guided my arm along the “back line”.
“It’s important to keep the movement flowing and keep your arm straight,” he said.
A lot of balls were dropped before I’d even hit them but to my amazement, I managed to strike quite a few decent shots. I might even go as far as to admit I was actually rather proud of some of them. However, I was nowhere near Serena standards.
“To be really good, you need to put in the hours,” said David, sagely. “Many people quote the 10,000 hour rule. Practise, practise, practise!”
The next stage was to put my “skills” into a match situation, and I definitely saw improvements, which was encouraging.
David is keen to kill off the idea that tennis is an elitist, or, in his words “a posh man’s sport”.
“It’s not necessary to be a member at a club and courts are free to book at every park tennis venue in the city,” he said.
“It’s a sport you can take up at any age. It’s good for your health, mentally and physically, and it’s very sociable.”
Will I be returning for more tennis? With Dundee’s generous offerings, on a sunny day, I may well head to a court.
Four tennis courts in Dundee – Dawson Park, Fairmuir Park, Victoria Park and South Road – have recently been refurbished, and a new online booking system means players no longer have to wait to play. Leisure and Culture Dundee runs activities and tennis programmes at public courts across Dundee in partnership with Tennis Scotland and Dundee City Council. The courts, owned by Dundee City Council, are free to book and there’s no need to be a member of a tennis club to get on a court. To book a court or coaching session, see dundeetennis.com