Seventy-six summers have passed since the last Briton – Fred Perry – won the men’s singles at Wimbledon. But let’s not dwell on this increasingly embarrassing statistic – there is nothing quite as infectious in London as tennis during the SW19 fortnight.
By Sunday, after the victors at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club have been garlanded, the capital’s parks and courts will be awash with Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova wannabes, and the gentle ‘pock’ of furry rubber on graphite will punctuate the air.
To take advantage of the fervour for tennis, the Lawn Tennis Association’s Allplay campaign welcomes all-comers to try out
the sport for free on Clapham Common, from Wednesday to Sunday.
There will be mini tennis, cardio-tennis – that’s right, a work out – wheelchair tennis, a picnic area with screens for watching the games, and hundreds of people, including a number of celebrities.
One of them will be Tim Lovejoy, the former Soccer AM presenter and host of Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch.
The 44-year-old never had a tennis lesson until he was invited to the inaugural Allplay event last year. He immediately fell head-over-heels in love with the game and now is fanatical, sweatbands, headbands and all.
“I was brought up watching players like Jimmy Connors, Björn Borg and John McEnroe, and I absolutely love tennis – but that was it, I’d only been an armchair fan,” the Londoner tells Scout. “I’d played with old wooden racquets in the park, having hopped over the fence, but that was all I knew. I never played at school or anything, so I was thrilled to have been given the opportunity by Allplay.
“I’ve been hooked ever since – I’m in love! It is an amazing sport, I just wish I had taken it up earlier.
“I picked it up really quickly – you start hitting balls pretty rapidly. Luckily I’m not a bad sportsman, so it wasn’t too long before I was giving it a good smash and even learning how to put some decent top spin on the ball.”
When asked why tennis is so addictive, Lovejoy explains: “What happens is that you start feeling like a little kid again. As a youngster you do things like smacking tennis balls around. There is something childlike about it, in a really lovely way. Hitting a ball is playing, and that’s what it feels like – and because of that it doesn’t feel like you are doing a lot of exercising when in fact you are.
“It’s hard physically and mentally, but so rewarding. It is an odd sport as it is one-on-one and the great thing is that every shot is different. You never get the same shot – and every shot is coming to you at a different pace, trajectory or angle. That’s where I am at the moment, working on my shot selection. It is like a sporting game of chess. When you get a decent rally going – about half a dozen shots or more – it is such a good feeling.”
Lovejoy says no one should be shy about picking up a racquet and adds: “After the day on Clapham Common, when I did some cardio-tennis, I took two-hour lessons and sweated continually, but could have kept going for another two hours as I was having so much fun.
“In my mind I am a right-handed John McEnroe. My serve is quite good, if I am being honest with you. And my coach says that my best weapon is my forehand. At the moment I am trying to master the drop shot.
“Wimbledon is the catalyst for most Brits taking up tennis. It’s the big one and inspires people to just pick up a racquet – just because it looks like a lot of fun. I’m happy to confirm that it is really good fun.”