Competing in the time of Coronavirus
By Jack Davies.
It’s that time of the year again! Wilson Surrey League Captains are dusting off their little black books of players and scheduling matches for the upcoming winter season, but there’s one big difference in 2020. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has forced players, clubs and leagues to adapt to compete in the time Coronavirus.
From new rules governing the way we travel, play, and interact with each other, to the closure of clubhouses and cancelling post-match refreshments, league matches look very different this year. While we may not be able to closely discuss tactics with our partners or shake our opponent’s hands at the end, we should celebrate that we can still play against our neighbouring clubs. Last year, playing away matches was perhaps the only way to consistently play with different players, but 2020 has continued to surprise us. Clubs all over Surrey have seen a huge influx of players – both old and new – joining us on court.
As the country emerged from lockdown in May 2020, tennis was one of the first sports to restart, inspiring thousands across the country to flock to the tennis court in place of the gym or other indoor sports. While most of us spent the next few months remembering how to hit forehands, backhands, serves and volleys, tennis officials and club committees worked to ensure player’s safety. With their guidelines and policies in place, Surrey League veterans and newcomers are now ready to compete in the 2020 Winter Leagues.
New members, new teams
For captains in the Surrey Leagues, new members provide a wealth of eager competitors keen to challenge neighbouring clubs in the ultimate test of skill and athleticism, but they also pose some serious problems. How do you balance existing teams and pairings against strong newcomers and those who haven’t played competitive tennis in years?
Some clubs have brought all their players together to decide on team allocations, while others have created new teams to include all of those who want to play, making team practice a mixture of experience and abilities, exposing tried-and-tested players to up-and-coming new members.
Though sometimes a difficult balance to strike, this poses a great opportunity for players to test their mettle against different playstyles: if we only play against heavy ball strikers, what do we do when our opposition constantly moon balls and slices? Or what happens when we are forced to generate all the pace ourselves? Sadly, the results aren’t always pretty, but these practice sessions are a chance to try out different shots and tactics, and to forge and test new partnerships before we face our fellow Surrey League competitors.
Different captains have different ways of organising their teams. Some choose to hedge their bets on their two strongest players, while others like to spread the wealth by separating their best. Is it better to match consistency with aggression, or should partners have similar playing styles? These are the questions that keep captains up at night.
It’s not just combinations of players either, especially during the winter months. Captains must consider the different court surfaces and each player’s ability to adapt to less than ideal conditions. Although we may be slightly more used to the cold weather than the professionals who played at the French Open this year, it’s not always easy. With the cold, dark, and wet afternoons looming ahead, sometimes a player’s attitude and enthusiasm are just as important as their groundstrokes.
Whatever the combination of players that captains choose, it’s important to remember that while tennis may not be the same as it was last year, it’s vital that we stick to the rules and play safely. Captains and players must continue to adapt to the changing landscape. By following the guidelines and acting responsibly, we can keep competitive tennis on the cards and look forward to a successful winter.
So, best of luck to all Wilson Surrey League players and captains this winter.
See you on court!