I Love Watching Tennis

Sometimes I wonder how I came to like tennis so much, given I’ve barely ever played. People ask me how I got into it, assuming my love, bordering obsession of the sport, is a result of years of personal experience. Was it triggered simply because Andy Murray is Scottish and by doing well, Scotland was being in some way recognised and celebrated? Would I have wanted to do a grand-slam tour if Andy had been English? Welsh? Or if there were no high-profile, successful British players? These are good questions and honestly, I don’t know. But what I’ve learned through this grand slam tour is that I love watching tennis; my appreciation of the sport is not limited to Andy, as wonderful as I think he is. 

As anticipated, by the time I came to be travelling to North America, I had accepted and essentially got over the fact that Andy wouldn’t be there. At the end of the day, I was still going on yet another summer holiday, catching up with several friends, exploring cities I’d never been to and, most excitingly, embracing the true time-zone of the US Open. It was definitely a better scenario to be in compared to arriving in Melbourne to find out that Andy had been knocked out, a matter of hours before I’d arrived.

When I look back on my ten-day trip now, I realise how much the time zone really made a difference. Sure, I went to Flushing Meadows twice: a day session on Louis Armstrong/rest of the grounds, a night session on Arthur Ashe on the same day, and I came back on the last day of the tournament to watch the final on the big screens. But it was more than just those two days. That second week of the tournament, I was watching tennis on TV almost every night, post-tourist-fun, pre-sleep. Looking back at my Twitter feed, I realise that I was all over what was going on in the tournament, too. Del Potro coming back from feeling like he was going to throw up, to beating clay mini-king Thiem, and then going on to beat Federer. The excitement of having four US players in the women’s semi-finals of the US home slam. Jamie Murray and Martina Hingis battling through to win their second mixed doubles title together, 2/2! And then the battle of the Brits between Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett in the wheelchair men’s singles semi-final, whilst also competing together in the wheelchair men’s doubles which they went on to win. Sure, I could have followed the tennis to this extent in the UK, but I would have been considerably sleep-deprived to have experienced it in the same fashion!

The highlights though, admittedly, were those matches I saw in real life. I was so chuffed to be able to watch Jamie Murray play in both the men’s doubles and mixed doubles quarterfinals. The doubles matches are hard to plan for – sometimes they are scheduled on consecutive days, sometimes there’s a day’s break – so it was really fortunate to be able to watch both. I’m a particular fan of Jamie’s men’s doubles partner, Bruno Soares, partly because he’s Brazilian and partly because he once liked my tweet! (I’m easily won over). Unfortunately, it wasn’t Jamie and Bruno’s day, but thankfully, that match came first. We ended on a high, watching Jamie Murray and Martina Hingis play a very close match against American Spears and Cabal but eventually coming through to win the match. Claim of the tournament: I filmed match-point, tweeted my video and tagged Jamie, and he liked my tweet, too! These guys! They have my ❤

For my night session at Arthur Ashe, the first match scheduled was Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova. Honestly, I wasn’t that excited ahead of time. I’d seen Venus play at Wimbledon in July, and she’d dominated the match which didn’t make for interesting tennis; I assumed every match featuring a Williams sister would be the same. However, this match was the complete opposite, the momentum kept swinging, and it was impossible to predict the result. Each player won a set before it went to a tie-break in the third, with Venus eventually claiming victory. One of the best aspects of watching the match was simply being inside Arthur Ashe, which has a capacity of almost 24, 000, the biggest capacity of any tennis-specific stadium in the world. You can imagine what an American crowd this size sounds like when watching one of the most celebrated American tennis players of all time: epic. By the time the match had ended, it was almost 10.30pm at night, and there was still a whole match to be played in the men’s quarter finals. I confess, I went home at this point. Sure, I love tennis, but I also love sleep, and staying healthy, especially on holiday. The only players I think I would have stayed to watch at that time of night would be Andy or Jamie. For anyone else, I can watch the highlights!

The last match I watched in real life was the wheelchair singles final between Brit Alfie Hewitt and Frenchman Stephane Houdet. This was the first time I’d ever watched a wheelchair tennis match from start to finish and I really enjoyed it. It’s one thing to manoeuvre yourself and your racket quick enough to hit the ball, but it’s another level of skill to do that and manoeuvre a wheelchair at the same time, even with the rules allowing for two bounces, rather than one. It wasn’t to be for Alfie, but with the match going to the full three sets, it was still an entertaining match to watch. And did I mention Alfie also liked my tweet? 😀

One thing that really struck me about the US Open, which may also be the case across all of the grand-slam tournaments, is the apparent lack of interest in doubles/wheelchair/quads tennis. The grounds at Flushing Meadows are fairly sizeable, definitely bigger than Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and I think the Australian, too. This means that there are loads of places to sit and eat, without being in any court or watching any tennis, and weirdly, that is what a lot of people choose to do. Even though they’ve paid to come and watch tennis! Face palm. I don’t understand. There was hardly anyone on the Grandstand court watching Jamie and Bruno in their quarterfinal match, and it was only half full when we watched Jamie and Martina. Given how little tennis was still going on by the last day of the tournament, I was surprised how few people came to watch the men’s wheelchair singles final on court 17. Anyway, each to their own, but if you want my advice: if there’s tennis being played, watch the tennis!

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Listening To The US Open

It was summer 2012, the Olympics had been and gone, and Andy Murray was in the final of the US Open, having just won his first Olympic gold in London. I’d not watched any of the tournament because we didn’t have the sports channels at my parents’ home in Inverness, and time difference meant that a lot of the tennis happened during the middle of the night. However, I couldn’t miss Andy potentially winning his first grand slam tournament. I sat up on my bed in the dark until 2.30am or whenever it was, forcing myself to stay awake whilst listening to the commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live. I was convinced that somehow, if I fell asleep, I’d risk Andy’s chances of winning. Fortunately I stayed awake, and he won the match; you’re welcome, Andy. First grand slam, baby!

Fast forward five years and I’m now living in London, but I still don’t have the sports channels. Thankfully, BBC Radio 5 Live is still going strong and I find myself sprawled on my living room sofa, with the commentary of Jo Konta’s first round match keeping me company via my phone beside me. I enjoy the chat on the tennis commentary but it’s fair to say I have no idea what’s really going on in the match. I believe Jo is winning?? Much like the Australian Open, my enjoyment of the US Open is limited. But only three days to go until I fly to North America, first to Toronto on Friday and then onwards to NYC on Monday next week. Despite Andy not being there, I cannot wait to see the final grand slam in action, in the right time zone! N O V E L T Y!  But for now, back to the radio.

Parkrun August

I think August will be my running peak. Not that I know what lies ahead in the remaining months of 2017, but I’ve got a feeling that my life is not going to allow me to participate in parkrun on four consecutive Saturdays again this year. At the time of writing, I have run 12 different parkrun routes around the globe, three of which I ran in the last month. I also volunteered at parkrun for the first time this month (much fun), bought some extravagant new purple running trainers (very bright) and got one of my best times to date on the last run of the month. Sort of. Needless to say, it’s been a month of running!

So, where did August take me?

Parkrun #10 – Cramond, Edinburgh
At the beginning of the month, I returned to the Scottish capital/best city of all time for a long weekend. As my fondest readers should know by now, I’m a big fan of doing a parkrun on holiday, and this seemed like a good opportunity to up my Scottish parkrun repertoire. Unfortunately, neither of the parkrun routes in Edinburgh are in the city centre, essentially because they don’t make Edinburgh City Council any money. This means that the existing routes have been set up in locations on the outskirts of the city, which are just a little bit more tricky to get to if you are a city-centre resident. The parkrun route at Cramond beach is also controversially but understandably along the beachfront so parks are very much not involved. But who doesn’t want to run beside the seaside?

Despite its dreamy location beside the water, my sister had pre-advertised the Cramond route as being boring. Admittedly, the route is quite straight-forward: you run east along the beach front, and then run back on yourself to finish. However, the route met my essential criteria – flat – and due to the nature of the route, it was possible to get into a steady rhythm when running. Time? 31:52.

Highlight of the route? Kilometre markers along the route that indicated which kilometre you had reached on your run. I guess that’s the benefit of a non-lap route. Shout-out to my great Brussels pal Carole Teale for joining me on the run and crucially, driving us to Cramond!

Parkrun #11 – Burgess Park, London
Living in London, you’re never without choices and when it comes to parkrun in south London, I’m not even sure I’m going to get through them all this year; there are so many options. On the final weekend of the World Athletics Championships, I met up with old flatmate Bex and her husband Dan at Burgess Park in Camberwell for their local parkrun. “Ok, see you in half an hour!”, I called out to Bex as her and Dan sprinted out from the starting line. Parkrun itself is not the most sociable; especially when essentially all of your friends are faster than you! (not that I’d be talking to you even if we were running at the same speed).

The Burgess Park is another almost-entirely flat route. No laps on this route either, but slightly more interesting than running in a straight line at Cramond. The highlight of the route for me was running around the lake; the lowlight was that last home straight of over 1k – it went on forever! I always sprint at the end of my parkruns and I was frustrated on this route that I didn’t know exactly where the route would end and so left it too late to do a long sprint. The same thing happened at Cramond except this time, I thought I knew where the finish point was and so sprinted, but then realised I still had some distance to run so had to slow right back down again to finish! Anyway, you live and learn, but these non-lap routes can be tricky. Time? 31:12.


Parkrun Volunteering – Tooting, London
Knowing that I was going to run parkrun with my friend Robyn on the last weekend of the month, and having already achieved and surpassed the ‘one-different-parkrun-a-month’ goal for August, I decided the third weekend of August was the perfect opportunity for me to volunteer. Often I find that I’m free to do parkrun so infrequently that when I am available, I just want to run. August was the exception.

Getting involved was straight forward. I looked up the volunteering roster for the upcoming week on the Tooting parkrun website, saw the roles which still needed filling, e-mailed the Tooting parkrun e-mail address and asked if I could get involved. I received a response, thanking me for volunteering within half an hour. On the day, I had to be there by 08:40 to receive instructions and meet the other volunteers. My role was barcode scanning so myself and two others bopped about chatting for 20 minutes or so, before the fastest runners came in and the scanning began. It was so nice to chat to fellow parkrun fans! Usually when I go to parkrun, I do the race, chat to whoever I’ve come with, and then leave. Volunteering made it more than a run for myself; I felt like I was part of something bigger. It was also really nice to be thanked by runners as I scanned their barcodes – there’s a really great sense of appreciation which has made me, in turn, appreciate the volunteers at parkrun even more. It’s not difficult to say thank you!

Parkrun #12 – Southwark, London
Speaking of volunteers, I probably met my favourite volunteer at Southwark parkrun this past weekend in the shape of a 10-year old boy who was giving out hi-fives to all runners after every lap. I liked him so much, I commissioned him to take the photo below!

My parkrun collective of friends is always growing and I was delighted when Robyn moved to Streatham, down the road from me, and seemed to almost instantly become a parkrun convert. This was partially due to the influence of her flatmate, Joe, who, as his t-shirt suggests below, is even more of a parkrun fan than me. We’d planned in our parkrun date weeks in advance, but it seems to be becoming a built-in part of Robyn’s life schedule nowadays – that’s what happens with parkrun, you can’t get enough of it!

Though Southwark is another flat route (of course), and is another three-lapper (it’s like I seek them out), we all finished the run exclaiming how much we had enjoyed the route. It’s a bit like Dulwich in that it’s just a really lovely park to run around. It’s very leafy, there are shaded parts, the volunteers were very smiley – we loved it! Time? Well, here’s the thing. As always, I recorded my run on Strava and when I finished, it said I’d run 5.3k. Huh? My time came through as 30:34, so it’s still my best run of late, since that 4.8k run at Peckham Rye, but why did my Strava say 5.3k?!? All I’m asking for in life is to get sub-30 and for all Strava/running devices to say 5k. It shouldn’t be this hard!

So that was August. Next parkrun stop is Washington DC in two weeks, and me attempting to keep the momentum up in the north American heat. Bring it on!

When Andy Withdraws Before The US Open Starts

Mmm, essentially I want to cry. I think Andy does too. In the last hour, it’s been announced that he’s had to withdraw from the US Open as a result of his ongoing hip injury. Though I should have maybe seen this coming, I thought that because he was in New York, and putting up funny photos of himself and his brother sharing a hotel room on Instagram, he was on course for a comeback at the US Open. I guess that was his hope and intention.

On the only positive note I can think of right now, at least he withdrew now, enabling another player to enter the tournament. From my own, very selfish perspective, I’m gutted that I already know there is no chance of seeing my favourite player on my last grand slam stop of the year. Of course, it will still be cool to go to the US Open, and bop about NYC, and probably by the time I get there, I’ll be thinking much more positively, but for now, I’m just a wee bit sad. I’m clearly going to have to do this grand slam tour again (feel free anyone to finance this).

Get well soon, Andy ❤

Parkrun #8 and #9 – Peckham Rye and Finsbury Park, London

July, much like August, but let’s stick with July for now, was another smug month of running. I book-ended the month with parkruns in opposite ends of London; temporarily found myself getting up to run at 6.30am, pre-work, in order to allow myself uninterrupted post-work Wimbledon watching (this, of course, has now ended); and, after several weeks of running regularly, achieved the sub-30 PB time I’d been working towards – but then forgot to take a photo. Fail.

Fortunately, I’ve become that person who records every run they do on Strava. If it’s not on Strava, it definitely didn’t happen.

Now Strava told me 5km. It also told me 29:22. If it had just been me running that day, I would have taken great satisfaction in this PB. However, that day in Peckham Rye – a delightful, varied, relatively flat 3-laps of a route featuring Japanese garden – I was running with uni friends Gribben and Crowther and Crowther’s girlfriend Eleanor. As we walked towards brunch, sweaty but satisfied after the run, we were browsing through our respective Strava stats like the trendy, runners-in-their-early-30s that we are. Gribben then made the shocking announcement that his Fitbit equivalent, renowned for being the more accurate device, had actually only recorded a 4.8km distance. Every Parkrun route is supposed to be 5km. Whether or not Gribben’s stats meant that I’d run the same distance as him, my new PB was now tainted. Sure, I still bragged about it on Instagram, my pace was certainly a PB, but this wasn’t the PB that, for me, meant that I’d achieved my goal. Now, I’d have to do it again.

The problem is, life gets in the way. Especially in Wimbledon season. Following this Peckham “PB” I then didn’t run for the next three weeks, for one reason or the other, and it was only because I’d made a social running date with Dani to do the parkrun at Finsbury Park, that I forced myself to start running again. I mean, sure, I’d have started running again in August, but this was late July, I’d already done a parkrun in July (just), and I was about to go on holiday to Scotland. Did I really need to do another parkrun?

I almost didn’t make it. The morning of, I arrived at Brixton station, thinking I’d just zip up on the Victoria line to Finsbury Park. However, that weekend, to my horror, work was being done on the Victoria line between Brixton and Victoria, and Brixton underground station was closed. After a few text exchanges with Dani – “I don’t think I’m going to make it”/”We can just go for brunch instead” – I remembered there was an overground train that went from Brixton to Victoria, and embarked on a faff of a journey that I would end up doing more times than I’d care to remember that day. The good news is, as you may have already guessed, I made it. Not without a frantic panic run from Finsbury Park station though!

The Finsbury Park parkrun route is two laps, roughly around the circumference of the park. There are two very contrasting inclines – one that lasts for at least 1km but is very gradual, and another which is very short but very steep. As I approached the steep gradient for the second time, one of the volunteers, a lovely grey-haired woman, called out “That’s a great, steady speed you’re doing there, keep it going up the hill!”. I remember being very short of breath, wondering how much longer I could keep going for and the words of that volunteer motivating me to grit my teeth and carry on, as slow as it may require. And once again, thanks to that extra push at the end, I completed another 5km without stopping. Sure, my final time was 33:46 – a far cry from my Peckham “PB” – but it’s still 5km without a break; my fitness levels must be doing alright!

A Postcard from London

Hello from London! The least exotic location of the four grand slams, but by far the most convenient. Interestingly, despite Wimbledon taking place on my doorstep, this is probably the most belated tennis postcard of them all. Still, who doesn’t want to remember Wimbledon one month later?

In my head, I was going to be at the Strawberries and Screen big screen at King’s Cross every day after work, cramming as much tennis action into two weeks as possible, whilst maintaining a full-time job. It was a wonderful vision. However, despite my location, and moving my weekly runs to be pre-work, rather than post-work (yes, before work!) I didn’t watch as much tennis as I had hoped; normal life seemed to get in the way. Maybe in future, I should just take the entire 2 weeks off work, temporarily move to a holiday home in Wimbledon, do all of my life admin pre-12pm and then set myself up in front of a TV/large screen/court on a daily basis as appropriate? Roll on retirement and this actually being my life!

However, despite not being able to watch all of the matches I wanted to watch, I found that I generally knew what was going on thanks to my good friends, the BBC. I wish they’d do ‘Today at Wimbledon’-esque nightly summaries for all of the grand slams. I’m sure Sue Barker would like the extra cash!

So, Wimbledon 2017, eh? Would you like a helpful recap?

(1) Eight singles players withdrew mid-match in the first round but still received the £35,000 losers prize for starting the match. Incroyable. This needs to be addressed – I would have been very angry had I been a fan who had paid to be there on those early days of the tournament.
(2) Stan the Man, the guy who beat Andy Murray in the semi-finals of Roland-Garros with yours truly as a witness went out in the first round. What on earth? Grass is clearly not his surface.
(3) Nadal and Muller played a fourth-round, 5-hour thriller on Court Number 1, with Muller eventually winning the tiebreak whilst I watched a Roger Federer masterclass on Centre Court and then toddled off home. I do kind of feel like I missed the match of the tournament. Fail.
(4) I saw Andy play (and win) not once, but twice in the space of four days. Amazing but a little bit stressful.
(5) After losing to Sam Querrey in the quarter-finals, Andy famously corrected that idiot American journalist in the press conference that followed. No, Sam Querrey is not the first American to get to the semi-finals of a major since 2009. Have you heard of Venus and Serena Williams? Call yourself a journalist?
(5) SOW Venus Williams knocked out our girl Konta in the women’s semi-finals, after Jo’s impressive run on the grass. Boo. Refreshingly though, Venus did not go on to win Wimbledon, and was beaten in straight sets in the final by Spaniard Muguruza. Yay.
(6) Djokovic retired in his quarter-final, an injury which we now know will prevent him from playing for the rest of the year. This means that there’s no chance of me watching him in this year of grand slams though I did watch him jog past the practice courts at Wimbledon. I must admit, I was quite excited. Anna, less so.
(7) Federer won Wimbledon for an incredible 8th time, defeating a determined, yet sadly injured Martin Cilic in straight sets. It wasn’t the best final because of Cilic’s injury but hats off to him for completing the match.
(8) Wimbledon ended on a high with a cracker of a mixed doubles final between defending champions Heather Watson and Henri Kontinen, and thee Martina Hingis and former number 1 doubles player in the world, Jamie Murray. A very entertaining match and  Martina and Jamie prevailed much to my delight. I’m forever a Murray-for-the-win kind of girl!

So yes, that’s my summary – I’m sure you are thrilled to have read my post-Wimbledon analysis! When I looked back at my other ‘postcard’ posts, I realised I had written more about the cities I’d visited, rather than the ins and outs of the tennis. I guess this post is a reflection of what Wimbledon is all about for me: the tennis. Having said that though, I obviously did make a point of seeking out Wimbledon big-screenage when I was able to: after work with my colleagues near Kings Cross (I made it once!); with my flatmates at the top of One New Change beside St Paul’s; and then in Millennium Square in Bristol, as part of a reunion weekend with Megan and Viv. The UK knows how to cater for the avid tennis fan!

Remember in my last postcard post, I said that this year was unintentionally turning into a Nadal slam? Well don’t worry, Andy has swiftly overtaken in the rankings. Thanks to my double-whammy of Andy at Wimbledon, I have now seen him play in three matches this year, whilst I have watched both Nadal and Federer two times each over the three grand slams. Not bad considering they are three of ‘the big four’/some of the greatest tennis players of all time!

So we haven’t bought our tickets for the US Open yet as they are still pretty expensive and we’re convinced they will go down in price. Yes, Dad would be proud, I will be forever a bargain hunter! We’re also not sure if Andy is going to be playing? However, we’re definitely going to New York so here’s hoping Andy’s hip recovers, we miraculously choose tickets for a day that he’s playing, and then he wins a grand slam! Not much to ask for, right?

Roll on Flushing Meadows!

CatMac X

How To Wim at Wimbledon: The Ballot

When it comes to the ballot, “wimming at Wimbledon” is not quite so straight-forward. Whilst you can almost guarantee your success in the queue by simply getting up early, entering the ballot doesn’t necessarily yield tickets for Wimbledon. However, it’s the first and most crucial step; as they say, you’ve got to be in it to win it.

I recognise that my queue post wasn’t very helpful given Wimbledon is an early-July distant memory. However, this ballot post should hopefully be a lot more useful as the tournament organisers will now be preparing for Wimbledon 2018 which means we, the punter, can also start preparing for Wimbledon 2018! No jokes, the link says it all.

Let me talk you through my ballot success for the 2017 Championships.

(1) At some point in September, I applied to the ballot directly, following the bureaucratic process that Wimbledon seems to hold dear. Scroll down to Wimbledon on my tickets guide to learn more about what is involved.

(2) Not fancying my chances, in November I did my classic shout-out to Facebook in hope I could persuade a few more people to apply to the ballot, so they could take me with them when they won.

(3) Distracted by the Australian Open, I forgot all about the ballot until 13 March when I came home after a boring day at work and found a letter addressed to me on the floor. I remember picking it up, casually opening it, thinking it was some fancy looking bill. And then I saw the Wimbledon branding. Gasp. Frantic opening. Ahhhh, I got tickets!!!! Cue texting my sister, the second biggest fan of Wimbledon that I know and waiting very impatiently for a response. Clearly Wimbledon knew it was my year of grand slams!

The notification letter that you receive from the tournament provides instructions on how to pay for the tickets online if you want them and so that night, I logged on and paid the balance. I think I was a bit scared that if I didn’t pay for the tickets there and then, somehow they’d be taken away from me. So happy!

(4) Having paid for my tickets, the only thing left to do was wait for them to arrive. In a similar context to when I received my original letter, I came home from work on 17 May to a fancy looking envelope and then got very excited when I realised what was inside. Wimbledon tickets!!

(5) Fast forward several months to the day itself. Anna and I went for brunch in Wimbledon village in the morning and then strolled into Wimbledon at around 12pm. Such a contrast to the previous Friday when I’d queued! Fortunately, I really enjoy the Wimbledon queue experience so never grudge it, but it was so nice to get into the grounds that Monday and not feel exhausted by the morning’s efforts. And the weather was again on form! Check out the blue skies and sweaty Catmac below as proof. Our line-up on centre court was also not too shabby: Venus Williams, Andy Murray and Roger Federer. You know, just some legends of the sport.

As if I need to say, it was another cracking day at Wimbledon. Venus strolled through her match. Andy stressed us out as he likes to do but fought through to win the match. Roger demonstrated the art of effortless tennis. I couldn’t have asked for more. For context, this was the same day that Nadal and Muller had their epic showdown on Court number 1. Looking back, I wish we’d stayed to watch the match on Henman Hill/Murray Mound. Instead, we left the grounds and kept stopping at pubs on our route back to the station, watching snippets on their tiny screens. Facepalm. Moral of the story: never leave the grounds when there is tennis still in play!

When Anna and I were at brunch, we got talking to some other lucky ticket holders at the table next to us. They told us that they had won ballot tickets for the mens final in the 2013 championships, i.e. they saw Andy Murray win Wimbledon for the first time, after Britain’s 77-year wait. What an epic event to have witnessed! This conversation, coupled with my own flukey success in my first ever entry to the ballot, has motivated me to apply for the ballot forevermore. And I think you should do the same (and take me, obviously!).