Reflections on 23 men’s tennis seasons.
I had just turned a teenager when I got the call up to see if I could play a few games in the local towns Div 4 men. These were all men in their 30’s and 40’s who had played local tennis for year on year. In my town of Uraidla in the Adelaide Hills you played footy and then in the summer you played either cricket or tennis. This was the beginning of many seasons ahead of open tennis league. The next year, at 14 years old, I played in the Hills Division 1. We formed a team of 3 @ 15 year old’s and 1 @ 14 year old. I had already played 6 or 7 junior seasons for Summertown and Uraidla and was probably the best 14 year old country player in South Australia (definately not best including metropolitan players). Playing for Lobethal Tennis Club, we made the grand final, losing to much smarter and experienced men in the grand final which ironically was the home town team of Uraidla.
That was the first adult season in what was to be many seasons in many different competitions in the years to come. I moved to play in the Eastern Districts competition in Adelaide which within the segmented associations of Adelaide tennis, Eastern Districts had a good strong reputation and happen to be my closest suburban competition from our small town in the hills. I started in Div 2 before finding a spot in a Div 1 team in the next 3 seasons playing for Rostrevor then Holmesdale and finally Burnside. The unique atmosphere of Div 1 Hills and Eastern Districts was the line up of 4 men and 4 woman playing together in the quest for the flag. Some strong tennis and very social BBQ and drinks after.
I had gone from changing my forehand from two handed to one hand at 15 years old which really sent my development backwards as a I relearnt a new movement and relied heavily on off backhands. This stagnation meant I really just hung around that lower Div 1 Eastern Districts level and didnt really progress much through the ages 15 to 17 years. If I am really honest I also was a little too social and went to lots of parties and gigs which were not exactly conjusive to improvements in my tennis game.
But I kept turning up to play on a Saturday afternoon and after finishing school, I managed to get a scholarship to a Division 2 college in the USA (mainly off ok results as a 14 year old). I had a gap year where I worked in a local apple orchard in the morning and played tennis in the afternoon which did help lift my game up that next notch. So after the gap year I was off the USA to play NCAA competing in the Carolina Conference. We were runners up before making it to Regionals and again coming Runners Up (to the same team in our Conference). Within my one and only year I ended up playing top doubles and #5 singles. My win rate was around 65% but Div 2 college tennis can have some quality players but also some average local kids who were easy to break down.
After a year in the US College system I returned home and enjoyed getting the opportunity to play the second half of the season in the highest level comp in South Australia, the Pennant competition. The best part was that it was for Adelaide Hills who had a side in what South Aussies call pennant competition (state grade). Although I was just an average #4 at that level, it was personally satisfying to reach that level of competition, especially to represent the Adelaide Hills.
The following year I dropped out of my International Business degree, moved to Darwin, and took up a position as a tennis coach. I played as part of the NT Premier League which as the population would dictate, was as a significantly lower level than the premier league in the other major states in Australia. I played #2 and #3 and finished 3rd in the premier league player of the year which although sounds nice on paper, was more a reflection that playing mostly #3 my matches were fairly straight forward and the award was based on most wins. The two guys above me in the player of the year and one or two others were bona fide state league level players anywhere in Australia.
After Darwin I moved to Perth to further my coaching education and explore another part of world. I wasn’t too motivated to play at this point and although at 22/23 years old was just coming into my prime years I really didn’t feel like I wanted to play competition and instead wanted to concentrate on becoming the best tennis coach I can be. I did play a hand full of matches for North Beach state league who won the state league that year but I was their number #6 in a strong line up.
Perth tennis was different than Adelaide in that apart from the ‘pennant’ state league competition, the Adelaide leagues were segmented into associations. This meant that in division 1 in Adelaide the talent is spread out across the multiple associations resulting in a larger spread of player level within the competitions. Perth Division 1 for example is a true State League reserves and pools all the possible players in the metropolitan area. So where it means far more travel between clubs it does mean stronger competition and also a tigher comraderie between players.
I gladly stepped away from playing competition tennis at 23 and 24 years old enjoying settling down with a girlfriend and not having to be feeling ready to rumble on a Saturday afternoon which felt relieving at the time. I then moved with my girlfriend (now wife) to the UK to coach tennis and again I focused only on coaching with little interest in playing competitively.
At 25 I got the job as Club Coach at Scarborough Tennis Club. I knew this was when I was going to play again to lead the club in the Tennis West competition. This was also when playing competitively switched from being just about me, me, me to being more about team and club.
The Scarborough Tennis Club Open League journey
Scarborough Tennis Club had a history of some very strong teams but when I came in had not for many years. I slotted in at #1 in what started was division 5. I didn’t lose singles at this level and enjoyed playing with a great group of guys eager for wins. Here I learnt about what an acceptable after match snack was learning my packet of chips did not cut it as good hosting hospitality! At the end of the year there was another recruit to join the team and others playing turning up at the club after moving to the area. Drawing players out of retirement become a big part of my strategy as I built up a resurgent Scarborough team.
We went from Div 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 and finally got to the strong Perth Division 1 competition. We had built up a nice group of players who enjoyed competing and hanging out together. It was fun moving the club up the tennis ladder and landing in Division 1. Having a bunch of strong players also made our Club Championships strong and helped spread awareness of the Scarborough Tennis Club across the WA tennis scene.
Our second year of Divison 1 we had 6 strong players all with years of tennis experience. In 2013/14 we won every single game of the summer season winning a close grand final against Cottesloe. This was an epic season with a bunch of inspired guys and showed that if everyone is committed and prepared for team success then results will come.
This meant we were automatically promoted to play State League. We were all in our 30s with most players in their late 30s. It was always going to be tough. We recruited a 16 year old number #1 on his way up and gave it a go. We struggled against the best couple of teams but still competed reasonably well given all things considered.
So our State League season was the pinnacle of a run of promotions. Our team splintered at this point, players sensing the end of an era. Some stayed on playing division 2 the next year but the energy was not quite the same.
So as I did in my early 20s, my late 30’s I took a couple of seasons off as our team dropped from Div 2 to Div 4 to rebuild our player base. I felt like that was me done, I could still play well enough but the joy of having Saturday afternoon off to spend with my family at the beach or just at home was outweighing the opportunity of more summer pennants. The other factor is that being on court coaching 20 hours or more per week you can at times crave being off the court in your down time.
A couple of years later I did jump in to the end of a Div 4 season to qualify and help our team win the flag for the season. This was fun and once again sparked new players keen to join the club and play higher. We ended up with another Division 1 team which was a combination of 3 guys in their early 20’s and a couple more of us in their late 30’s. We were once again a force in Divison 1 and my role was more about coming in as the 5th man doubles player with a talented and enthusiastic line up of players. This was the covid 19 season and no finals were played. As we were the Minor premiers we were awarded as the season ending winning team which although didn’t really feel like a proper premiership, we were a strong team. The following year we backed it up in Division 1 and again made it through to the grand final losing to long term rivals Cottesloe after being 3/1 up after singles. That one stung. It was a lost opportunity for another Div 1 flag and we were good enough to win. We lost our number 1 player to state league the following season and had a far more average performance missing out on finals.
I have decided not to play open league this year and not really sure if I will ever play ‘open’ competition again but never say never. I am now 41 years old, and just don’t have the motivation or desire to push through a Saturday afternoon fixture. I will still play the odd short format tournaments as well as club tournaments and at some stage down the line I will consider forming a strong team in the seniors doubles competition that is run on Sundays. Playing pennants costs me at least one chiropractor visit as well as soreness and uselessness for the next day. Although the relief of sinking into the bath after a great day on the court still is one of the greatest feelings.
It should be said that from 2009 onwards I certainly did not play every match of the season and primarily played home games finding the balance between coaching all week, getting up to compete on Saturday afternoons and balancing family time. Some seasons I just played enough to qualify. But I know my winning record in Division 1 was over 70% and my winning record at home on the grasscourts at Scarborough become somewhat of a source of pride, grinding out some comeback wins over the years.
The key to longevity is to look after your body. Whether that is regular massage, disciplined stretching or for me, regular chiropractic. But in all the seasons the key remained to have a large group of motivated players so you have depth all season. You also need to focus on doubles which so many players/teams overlook. Particularly in recent years I have picked 1 single part of my game I want to work on during the season, whether it be slice or more aggressive on my forehand, better returns etc. These mini goals keep you motivated.
So many good players finish their competitive career in their 20’s. Often burnt out from an intense junior career, players just find other interests and as you get older your other life responsibilities grow making the commitment to a tennis team difficult. I am glad I continued to play and use those skills learnt as a young man. Tennis is not always fun and losing is hard but the personal growth you get from the sport as well as the people you meet, makes it all worth it.
History of tennis leagues
- 1994/5 – Uraidla Tennis Club – Adelaide Hills – Division 4 – SA
- 1995/6 – Lobethal Tennis Club – Adelaide Hills – Division 1 – SA
- 1996/7 – Rostrevor Tennis Club – Eastern Districts – Division 2 – SA
- 1997/8 – Holmesdale Tennis Club – Eastern Districts – Division 1 – SA
- 1998/9 – Burnside Tennis Club – Eastern Districts – Division 1 – SA
- 2000/1 – Carolina Conference – NCAA Division 2 – USA
- 2001/2 – Hills Tennis – Pennant State League South Australia – SA
- 2002/3 – Gardens Tennis – Premier State League – NT
- 2003/4 – North Beach Tennis Club – State League – WA
- 2006/7 – Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 5 – WA
- 2007/8 – Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 4 – WA
- 2008/9 – Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 3 – WA
- 2009/10 – Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 3 – WA
- 2010/11 – Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 2 – WA
- 2011/12 – Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 2 – WA
- 2012/13 – Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 1 – WA
- 2013/14 – Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 1 – WA
- 2014/15 – Scarborough Tennis Club – State League – WA
- 2015/16 – Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 2 – WA
- 2018/19 – Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 4 – WA
- 2019/20 – Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 1 – WA
- 2020/21- Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 1 – WA
- 2021/22 – Scarborough Tennis Club – Division 1 – WA
Club Coach and Director of Tennis