Since I was old enough to walk I've loved the game of tennis. Whether I was playing, watching or analysing it, it has always been a great thrill for me.
By the age of eight I was competing in five annual local tournaments, which were played, even by a semi-pro tennis player's standards, to a high standard. My father loved the game too, and he would bring me to every match.
For the most part, it would be fair to say that I was largely self-trained. However this did not stop me, and I in fact developed quite a decent technique with my ground strokes and was becoming a good player. What did plague my progress was the way in which my serve was developing. I found that although my ground strokes were becoming weapons in my play, my weak serve was not improving.
Later I would find that this was largely due to the fact that I was a lefty, yet I threw objects with my right hand. As a serve is very much like a throwing motion, this meant that it was much harder for me to get that bending action in my left arm, that is so crucial to the effectiveness of the serve.
Therefore gradually I started losing more and more often as my failure to asses the problem with my serve became evident.
This also became a huge frustration for my father, who gathered whatever money he could to hire coaches to asses this problem, all of who failed to do so.
My father would often speak about how he would love to have been, or at least been involved with a professional tennis player himself. This he felt, was something I could reach if I could only improve my serve.
As time went on and more first round losses in tournaments occured, I was beginning to find that my passion for playing the game and the sheer enjoyment element of it was dieing. I felt increasing pressure to succeed where my father had not been given the chance to.
Eventually I found I was entering tournaments simply to please my father, who would be constantly pushing me to go and practice my serve all day every day as he felt it was the only way to improve it, and he was right. I don't blame my father as he is a good man, but it was becoming apparent to me that my dieing passion for playing the game was clashing with his dream of having a professional tennis player as a son.
I would always have imagined myself as someone who would practice my serve all day every day to improve it, as that is what I would do with everything else I was involved in, whether it was football, another sport which I was, and still am passionate about playing, or whether it was playing guitar, I would always practice again and again until I had it perfect.
However, something was quickly going wrong with my love for playing tennis. It may have been the constant tournament pressure which I used to love, or it may have been the strain of feeling I had to succeed.
Unfortunately when my father began to sense this, his reaction to it was hard for me to take. I almost felt as if he was feeling betrayed. He would commonly remind me of all the money he paid, and how its going to waste, and ask me why I was no longer interested. He even began to feel as if I really didn't care about anything he'd done for me. This had a profound effect on me, as I gradually felt overwhelmed with guilt, thinking how I could give it up after all he did for me.
This guilt forced me to keep entering tournaments, by my heart wasn't in it as much now, and I was defeated regularly, despite still trying my very best in the matches. I soon could sense the effect this was having on my father, as he often muttered to himself how I'm not interested in it, and how it was no good, I wasn't trying hard enough to improve. I would find he would even seat himself further away in the audience, or watch other ongoing matches while I was playing, and although I know he didn't mean to harm me by doing this, it was hard for me to see him so detached as I knew it was because my heart wasn't in it.
Then, as of now, my last truly competitive tournament came. It was yet another first round defeat, to a player I had beaten before. I had already noticed that my father was nowhere to be seen, and by the time I was ready to walk off court, I realised that he must not have seen any of my match. When I went to put my gear in the car in the car park, I saw my dad sitting in the front seat, motionless starring into the nothingness in front of him. When I asked him why he didn't watch, his exact reply was ''ahh, it's no use, it's the same result every time, you lose''. He could no longer bare watch it, he really wanted me to be competitive and I suppose he had lost sight of the fun side, just as I had.
After that, I never officialy ''quit'' from playing competitively, but rather the idea of it just faded away, and my competitive tennis side was gone.
Every now and again my father would still half- heartily ask me, if I was bored, why not practice my serve, but even those questions began to fade away as they inevitably brought up scenes of tension. It remains a touchy subject between us, and if someone was to mention it, no doubt there would be mumbles of, boarder line resentment.
I'm glad that I will hopefully always be a bit better than average when playing tennis, but no doubt I will always feel that element of guilt and regret. Is this my father's fault? no I don't think so, he had a burning passion for tennis and in me he may have thought he had a professional tennis player, although when you look at the bigger picture that was a VERY slim chance, but nevertheless I was his hope.
I still love to watch, read and follow the game very closley as it remains as something I love.When I think about it, I think my father wanted me to achieve to the best of my ability, and I certainly didn't do that.
For that, I feel bad, as it now acts as a dent in our relationship.
May be one day we'll both look back at this and laugh, but presently, I wonder what effects the beautiful game of tennis has on those who failed to be the Federer's and Nadal's of this world.