April 10, 2020
Did you notice how often Boris Johnson’s love for tennis came up when he fell ill recently?
David Cameron, a former British Prime Minister even seemed to think that Boris would be served by precisely the qualities he likes to show on a tennis court.
He explained: ‘Boris is a very tough, very resilient, very fit person. I know that from facing him on the tennis court. And I’m sure he’ll come through this.’
That’s not to pretend that tennis is some kind of special weapon in times of trouble.
But Cameron reminded us how the very best human qualities tend to shine through on a tennis court.
So they can also do no harm when the going gets tough in the wider world.
Our beloved sport doesn’t just encourage fitness and strength of character.
It can also provide a stage for other life-enhancing qualities – a sense of humour and a loveable eccentricity.
The writer and broadcaster Michael Cockerill is a friend of Boris Johnson. He told a funny story about the Prime Minister in a recent BBC interview.
‘This is a guy who normally never stops. I’ve played tennis against him and it is the most extraordinary thing.
‘He came out with a warped wooden racquet. It looked as if it had been kept behind a radiator since Fred Perry was a boy.
‘And the good thing for him about playing with a warped wooden racquet is that you can’t quite tell which direction the ball will go once it has hit his racquet.
‘You would play a shot well out of his reach and he would jump up like a gorilla and say: “This is mine uurrgghh!”
‘He is very competitive and from a very competitive family.’
A love of tennis does no harm if you’re aiming for the top.
Boris isn’t the only tennis fan who has reached the pinnacle of British political life.
Ironicially Cameron is a “lefty’ when it comes to tennis. He kept playing, even while he was leading the country.
Cameron took on Boris in a fun match during the build-up to the London Olympics.
Each politician was accompanied by a rather more expert wheelchair tennis player. Team Boris edged the contest.
Tony Blair, one of the longest-serving British Prime Ministers in history, also plays tennis.
He is a very different personality to Boris Johnson. But tennis is a common denominator.
Blair once famously teamed up with Pat Cash to play against Ilie Nastase and the comedian, Alistair McGowan on the Queen’s club grass a few years back.
Blair earned praise from both Cash and Nastase after the event, which was for Sports Relief.
Cash joked afterwards: ‘We both served well. We’re taking it one match at a time but I think we’ve got a future.’
Nastase also seemed mildly surprised by Blair’s level and said: ‘He returned very well and played quite good, you know?’
Blair practised before he had to play that match in front of thousands. He worked hard to look as good as he could out there on the big day.
He wanted to be the best he could be.
Gordon Brown was also happy to be photographed at the top of his service action while he was in power. For him it was just a moment of fun.
It doesn’t matter what your political persuasion is. A love for tennis seems to unite British Prime Ministers – Conservative and Labour.
The reason is simple. Through tennis, you can express the best of yourself.
You can get fit. You can learn mental toughness and resilience. You can be as competitve as you want. Or you can be as humorous and eccentric as you want.
How many other sports allow for such a wide range of character traits?
Look how different some of the top players are. The resilience of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. The eccentricity of Nick Kyrgios or Gael Monfils at their best.
Tennis is an expression of everything. It is a celebration of life.
No wonder tennis has captured the hearts of several British leaders this century.
Boris is just the latest. And we have heard tennis mentioned frequently as leading people talk affectionately about his character.
Testing times underline everything we hold dear. No wonder tennis comes up so often in conversation.
And when the time comes for us all to gather around tennis courts once more, that moment will feel all the sweeter.