For most of our team, a day on a different set of tennis courts can feel like a day trip, sad I know, but for me, it was even more enjoyable as I was back on home turf at Graves Tennis Centre, Sheffield, with Louis Marsden for day one of his draw, the 12&U Boys, at the Sheffield Junior Open 2014.
Grade 2 National Tour events are usually pretty impressive, with some of the best young players in the country going head to head across the week, players, their families and coaches everywhere and court referees keeping an eye on proceedings meaning that some of the usual club-level disputes over line calls and scores etc are far fewer in number. Louis has been to a number of these now so knows what to expect. There’s rarely an easy match, and winning the first one is pretty important in a player’s chances of securing a place in the following Grade 2 events later in the year.
After travelling to the event, this time thankfully only an hour up the road which is a little closer than some of our previous trips to Bournemouth etc, the first part of the morning is usually spent trying to hunt out practice court space to warm up, as with so many players on site, it’s pretty limited. Sheffield was no different. We managed to sneak on to a match court for fifteen minutes between matches, enough time to get Louis’ own game settled and ready to go, before finishing up on some abandoned courts (without nets!) to put the finishing touches to his preparations. Specific tactical planning for his opponent was tough on this occasion as he’d been drawn against a player who we’d never seen, which isn’t uncommon in younger age groups as players emerge gradually from different corners of the country. So it was a case of rehearsing Louis’ Plan A, with a discussion about what Plan B, C etc might be. When playing someone we’ve had the chance to scout, or someone we already know, there will be more specific tactical planning in that initial warm-up part of the day.
It’s always interesting to see how such young athletes handle events like this, and it’s obvious a number of players are pretty nervous, but some already seem to behave like professional athletes already, despite only just starting secondary school.
For a change, Louis had drawn someone who was actually shorter than him. He’s currently one of the younger players in the 12&U Boys age group and isn’t particularly tall for his age anyway, but I think the fact he was actually the tallest in a match for a change helped him settle quickly. Watching a player is arguably more stressful than playing, as you’ve done the preparation but can no longer influence proceedings yourself as coaching is not allowed during tennis matches full stop except in a handful a special events.
Louis has spent the past couple of years building an aggressive game, and it paid dividends against a player who didn’t know how to handle the power he is capable of generating, even with his small frame. A few who knew his opponent but were unfamiliar with Louis saw the final score on the courtside scoreboard, 6-1 6-0, and presumed that it was the opponent who’d won. On this occasion though, it was Louis who’d produced one of his best displays at this level to secure a spot in the last 32.
A lot of people aren’t sure exactly how a day at events like these work, though each event is a little different in its scheduling. On this occasion for Louis, that was it for the day. An hour’s travelling each way and just under an hour’s preparation time on and off the courts had been the efforts for just over an hour of competitive tennis. But with a win in the bank, he could head home, stretch, relax and then get ready to repeat it all again the following day…