Friday, May 27, 2011

The 12-year-old girl who beat me and then the world

Last week, Claire Vigrass completed a career grand slam in the sport of real tennis, adding the world singles and doubles titles to the full house that she already holds in the British, French, US and Australian Opens. In terms of dominance, she is Britain's greatest sportswoman, albeit in a sport with a relatively small base.

I've taken an interest in the growth of Claire's career because seven years ago she and her sister gave me and my father an absolute spanking on the tennis court, beating us 6-0 in a doubles competition. She was 12 years old at the time.

I don't know if you are familiar with the noble sport of real tennis. It's the twisted mother of the version Andy Murray plays, only done indoors with sloping roofs that you can hit the ball along, jutting-out bits of wall that you can aim for a wicked ricochet off and netted windows into which you can win a point by striking the ball.

It's like tennis if imagined by MC Escher. One theory goes that the reason for its bizarreness is because Henry VIII was a keen player and every time he lost a point he just claimed that there was a new rule that meant he had actually won. Only Calvinball is more bonkers.

Anyway, I've been playing this sport for about 15 years (once breaking into the top 1,000 in the world rankings no less) and when eight years ago I entered a doubles tournament with my father, a pretty nifty lawn tennis player in his day, we had some confidence.

Up against us in the first round were a 12-year-old girl and her sister. Mentally, we started making plans for round 2. Bad mistake, they played us off court. I'm not sure we even won a point, let alone a game.

To cap it all, these schoolgirls did not even smile. Every perfect return, every pin-point volley or winning serve was met with the same grim expression. Even when they got a lucky break, the ball clipping the net and flopping over, they did not acknowledge their fortune with a grin. It was ruthless, bloody, win-at-all-costs determination. Now I think of it, I don't think they dropped a set all tournament.

A couple of years ago, I met Claire again while she was training at Lord's. She has become a beautiful, charming woman, but as the results at the world championships show, where she won the final 6-1, 6-4, she clearly still retains that killer determination.

I just hope she has learnt to smile while winning. What is the point of doing sport if you don't enjoy it? Or is that the view of a loser?

No comments: