Fitness: The over-50s world champ talks tennis
With Wimbledon cancelled, Lydia Parkin gets her tennis fix in the form of a chat with Teresa Catlin, newly-appointed manager of Cambridge Lawn Tennis Club and reigning over-50s World Champion
Strawberries and cream, Pimm’s, sunshine and showers, John McEnroe’s dulcet tones, Serena’s brilliance, Roger’s class, perky optimism swiftly replaced with bitter disappointment as British hopes tumble slowly down Henman Hill - or is it Murray Mound?
Ah Wimbledon. It’s just magical, isn’t it? A sublime British institution that comes along every summer and makes us all fall in love with tennis for a fortnight.
But alas, we are living in extraordinary times. Wimbledon, along with pretty much the entire sporting calendar, has been cancelled. So this summer, we must grab whatever equipment we can find in the shed – a beach bat and ball for me – and attempt to recreate the magic in our own gardens and living rooms.
That’s exactly what Teresa Catlin has been doing. Although - as the manager of Cambridge Lawn Tennis Club, former British number one, a renowned coach and reigning over-50s World Champion - I imagine her lockdown tennis fix is a little different from the rest of ours. “We’ve had a go at the 100-volley challenge that Andy Murray set,” Teresa tells me when we chat over the phone.
Teresa was lucky enough to play at Wimbledon. It was a “magical experience” she says and something she is immensely proud of. “Wimbledon is special because of the history and tradition it maintains so dearly. It is tennis at its purest. All players recognise and respect the ‘special and unique’ atmosphere that the grounds hold. It has a very welcoming and friendly feel, dare I say homely,” Teresa remembers.
“You are surrounded by past champions on the walls that inspired you as a youngster growing up and, no matter how many times you go there, it makes you have goosebumps. It is as though their spirits are there watching over you and it's easy to visualise them playing in their whites with the grace and elegance of the yester year. For me it's a spiritual experience.”
Wimbledon was a very distant dream when Teresa first began hitting a ball, after “picking up a handbook of things to do in the holidays between junior and senior school.” She was soon on the tennis courts for two hours every morning and it wasn’t long before her talent caught the attention of renowned Cambridge tennis coach Sue Rich, who Teresa still works with today. “She took me under her wing, pushed me forwards for the county programme and various other things and it all went from there.”
What was it about tennis that got her hooked? “I think it’s the variety,” she says. “You’ve got singles, doubles and mixed; then you’ve got the number of shots and things you can do with the ball. It’s a great sport for life, a sport you can adapt for all surfaces and it’s just a really interesting game.”
The moment Teresa was chosen to represent Britain under-14s was when she realised that she was really rather good. “You’re in the big wide world and you realise that you can compete at this level, you’re no longer a big fish in a small pond so to speak, so when I started winning internationally that was the moment I realised I had something.”
The next few years were a whirlwind of success. After leaving school, Teresa went on to play professional tennis on the WTA tour from 1985 to 1990, competing at Wimbledon and the other three Grand Slams alongside legends like Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, and reaching a world ranking high of 191.
But with the highs came lows too, and there was a lot of pressure on her young shoulders. “It was a huge pressure because suddenly it is what you do for a living rather than just for fun. There’s a big difference between going and playing when you feel like it, to training and being your best every day because it’s your job.”
Teresa made the decision to leave the professional tour aged 20, to pursue a coaching career. “I was given the opportunity to coach some of the under-12 national juniors at Bisham Abbey and loved it from day one. I then took my LTA coaching qualifications and never regretted my decision.”
In the years since, Teresa has coached all over the country, helping players of all ages and abilities to realise their potential, from beginner to international standard. Her career came full circle in 2009 when she returned to Cambridge, to coach at Cambridge Lawn Tennis Club, the club she started out at as a junior. And now she’s taken over the reins as manager of the club, having been appointed at the beginning of March.
What made her want to take on this role? “I knew everybody and how the club worked and operated which is always helpful. I knew the direction the club was going in and we have a good balance between the membership, the coaching and the competitions. It’s a really proactive club, and the development of the children, going through from beginners to county level, is one of the things I’ll be looking to try and drive forward.”
It’s undoubtedly been a strange start to her new role, but Teresa is still relishing the opportunity, when it comes, to pass on her enthusiasm, knowledge and skills to people who love the game of tennis as much as she does, both young and old.
“It’s just a great experience being on court with people who love playing tennis. We have people at our club who are 90! One person, a man called Rex, turned 90 during the lockdown, so we are going to have a big party for him when the club reopens. He comes for lessons and it just shows everyone can still learn something at any age.
“Last year we had a mums and babies group for the first time. I think with tennis there are no limitations; as long as people are enjoying playing tennis, they can learn and it is hugely rewarding to be able to help them.”
And you won’t find a more inspirational person to learn from than Teresa, who as the reigning over-50 women’s singles and doubles champion is proof that age is just a number. “It was a real shock,” she says of last summer’s win in Lisbon. “But it was an amazing experience, a highlight of my tennis career.”
With this summer’s tournament cancelled, Teresa won’t have the opportunity to defend her title, but she doesn’t mind too much. “Champion for two years!, she laughs.
So what would be this champion’s main piece of advice for those looking to follow in the footsteps of Roger, Serena and co? “Join a club and get involved! It’s just about hitting lots of balls - it’s a marathon not a sprint. Tennis is one of the hardest sports to get good at because of the variety, so I would say persevere, don’t give up and just enjoy hitting the ball as much as possible.”
* To find out more about Cambridge Lawn Tennis Club, visit cambridgeltc.com
Teresa’s five top tips to help you improve your game
1. Every time you play, have a goal, whether that be a target to aim at, a number to reach or practising a set routine in points.
2. Practise your serve for at least 10 minutes every time you play, aiming at targets.
3. Play points every time you play, don't just hit balls.
4. Learn to manage your emotions (highs or lows): this will enable you to maximise your potential.
5. Tennis is a wonderful sport for life, so enjoy the sport of tennis, not just the winning. It is the best sport for social engagement (meeting new friends), longevity (a lifetime), and mental and physical challenges (it has been proven that tennis players live on average 10 years longer; it takes a lot of coordination and skill, therefore helping to keep us mentally sharp and physically active).
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