| 8.5°C Dublin

David Robbins: I play tennis just like that old pro Roger. . . Moore, of course!

If you stand on your tippy-toes and lean to the left, you can just see a row of tennis courts from our bedroom window. You could lean out the window to get a better view, but there's always the danger of "death by stupid act".

For 50 weeks of the year, the courts are empty. Their nets flutter and billow in the wind and, during the winter months, a slippery green algae grows around the baselines.

But for one glorious fortnight in June, they are alive with activity. The pock-pause-pock sound of old, soft tennis balls being hit back and forth fills the air. My wife and I stand on our tippy-toes and look out the window. "It must be Wimbledon," we say.

Some of the players are neighbours, inspired to dig out the old rackets from under the stairs by events in London SW19. Others are eastern European men dressed in Putin-style camouflage gear who vault the gate.

For some reason -- the long evenings, maybe, or because it looks easy on TV -- these two weeks in June see an explosion in tennis playing that dies away as suddenly as it began.

Tennis, of course, has a lot going for it. It's easy to play (but difficult to play well, mind) and has a certain grace to it. It has fewer rules than most sports, and does not require the vast financial outlay or large playing area of, say, golf or sailing.

Martin Amis, who used to play to a high level and was, by his own admission, a competitive bastard on the court, calls tennis "the most perfect combination of athleticism, artistry, power, style, and wit".

He has obviously never seen me play. My one and only tennis coach -- Anne-Marie O'Grady -- stayed for two lessons and then went off to become a singer-songwriter.

It was during one of those long, boring teenage summers when there never seems to be anything to do that I began to play tennis.

My opponent was a similarly bored teenager who had been playing for years. Kevin Fox had a frying-pan serve, no backhand and was suspect overhead, but he knew how to win.

He seemed to know where I was going to hit the ball, and, even more alarmingly, knew how to hit the ball to where I wasn't. He deployed an arsenal of chops, spins and cuts that, if not illegal, were damned unfair.

Later, when we would sneak off for a game during lectures at UCD, we were sometimes joined by Eimer McGovern. Compared to grunting blockers like myself and Fox, she seemed to come from another planet.

She swung her racket instead of just jamming it at the ball. Her strokes were fluid and her technique was flawless. She could volley and hit dropshots. She looked like a tennis player, while we looked like what we were: rugby players with rackets dangling from our mitts.

I learned later that there was a word for what Eimer had on the tennis court: form. Form doesn't mean how well you're playing; it refers to the shapes you make on court, how you place your feet, the arc of your forehand, your style.

Formless and rather clueless, I continued to play tennis. I played on holidays and, during Wimbledon fortnight, I even played on those courts I could just see from the bedroom window.

Martin Amis peaked at 40, and gradually gave up the game, dismayed at his slowing reflexes and the pain from his hip girdle. I on the other hand, who had never been better than "workmanlike" (© Anne-Marie O'Grady), kept going, convinced I could only get better.

I stopped playing singles. Doubles was more fun and, if you had a younger, scampering partner, more relaxing. On holidays, I discovered that four dads sneaking off for a set or two before breakfast or in the evening, taking time out from wives and family, was a stolen pleasure.

On court in the heat of central France, I tried to find my "form". I tried to complete my strokes and move to meet the ball. I tried to be like Roger Federer. The three other dads reckoned I was more like Roger Moore.

drobbins@independent.ie

Indo Review