Hugh Sullivan interviews the Amherst players

How did you get started as a tennis player?
Jane: I started playing at boarding school at the age of seven. I was an all-round sports enthusiast and very competitive, captaining school teams in netball and rounders, and playing tennis for Berkshire county juniors.

Jo: My father was a very good golfer without ever taking a lesson, and he thought I should learn to play tennis in the same way. I got books out of the library (I remember one by Billie-Jean King) and hit against the garage door. I did join a tennis club in Wimbledon as a junior (West Side, not the All-England) but didn’t play competitions.

Nikki: I was brought up in Hastings, and had some group lessons up to the age of 11, but then effectively stopped. Horse-riding was my main sport. It wasn’t until my own children started playing at Amherst that I returned there and played in ‘rusty rackets’ sessions before playing for the third team, then second, now first.

Pearl: I started at Amherst aged 8, in group coaching sessions with [then coach] John Mayo. I didn’t play in any junior teams or tournaments. 

Debi: I used to play in the park but didn’t get lessons or otherwise take it at all seriously until I joined Amherst around seven years ago. Then I got picked for the third team, and have carried on up.

How often do you play currently and do you attend coaching sessions now?
Jane: I play around four times a week, including matches. I have had lessons in recent years from club coaches Jack [Graham] and Ross [Cudmore].

Jo: I try to play twice a week as well as regular matches. I am almost entirely self-taught but had a course of 12 individual lessons from Doug [Keen, top coach at Amherst] this year, and found out what I should be doing – I’m still learning how to hit top spin properly.

Nikki: I play four or five times a week, but don’t have time for coaching, though about three years ago I did seek help with my serve. What has improved me most is playing on a regular basis in a Saturday afternoon club group where I’m the only woman and feel I have to justify my place.

 Pearl: I play two or three times a week. I’ve never had any coaching since I was 16 – I don’t have time. Maybe when I retire I’ll get some lessons.

Debi: I play five or six times a week, including regular coaching sessions (both individual and group) with Doug and Peter [Farthing]. 

What motivates you to keep playing at this level?
Jo: I enjoy the game whether I’m playing competitively or not, but it’s good to challenge ourselves, and as a match player I’m playing different people and responding to different styles of play.

Nikki: It’s nice to do something for myself. Especially if I have had a stressful day, I can come here and hit the ball hard – get everything out! Besides, I’m super-competitive – at everything!

Debi: I always believe that we can improve, whatever our age and ability, to reach our full potential – whatever that may be. And tennis is a very good escape from the usual work and family routines.

Pearl: It’s sociable, it’s good exercise, and I have a good time doing it, relaxed and entirely focused on the game. I wouldn’t want to go running or to the gym – you’d still be thinking about other things there.

Jane: Besides just love of tennis, I really enjoy captaining this team of players, entering the club in the Aegon team tennis league for the first time and winning two successive promotions. It was suggested that we would have to find younger players from outside the club to compete in the singles. I didn’t want that – we are a team as we are.

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