Gill South gets a few tips from an expert about slicing and serving on centre court.
I've just experienced what is, for me, a little slice of heaven. I've had a lesson with tennis coach, David Knott on the centre court of what we know as the ASB Tennis Centre, now transformed into the new Next Generation Auckland Domain Club.
A total of 12 courts, including three new indoor ones, are available to members as well as gym facilities, swimming pools, you name it ...
Dave gave me one of his fancy racquets, examining my Dunlop faithful as if it were something from Antiques Roadshow.
I asked if we could do some stretching exercises before we started because I tend to feel like I've been run over by a truck when I play these days. Dave agrees you use lots of muscles in tennis, particularly when you are going up for a smash or serve.
We start gently with a larger, soft ball, which just helps gets the muscles warmed up. You'll never see Djokovic with one of those. Dave and I are old-school - we learnt to hit the backhand with a slice, none of this two-handed nonsense. I hit a few backhands he can't return so feel very pleased with myself, though I hit plenty out too. It's my forehand that obviously needs work - it's loopy and unreliable. But Dave gives me a good tip - start anticipating the shot early.
As soon as he's hit it I start putting my racquet back and there's a vast improvement. I get some good spin on my shots. We move on to volleying. It's all about the elbows. Stick them out at the sides as if you are pretending to be a duck, hold your racquet at the centre in a neutral-ish grip, then when the ball approaches, no big reaches, just use a minimum movement forward to pop it away. Good fun.
We finish off the session with my serve - which, frankly, doesn't even scare my 9-year-old. Dave's advice is to get the ball higher, so I get some oomph behind it. I toss it up with my palm up and when the ball leaves my hand, the hand continues to follow the ball, which should be at 1 o'clock. The accuracy's not great, but I'm doing much stronger serves by the end. Watch out Serena.
Dave is running a variety of sessions for people wanting to get back into playing. There's Rusty Racquets, for those who haven't played for a while. Another initiative is Tennis Fit, where you do a series of drills, running and hitting balls under pressure. He thinks this would be good for me.
The coach takes me on a tour of the new club's facilities which are very family-friendly, with good-sized changing rooms. He shows me oodles of shiny new gym equipment for gym bunnies. There's a Peak Pilates room, a fitness and cycle studio and the Regeneration Spa, a flash wet spa, next to the indoor pool - you won't find that in many gyms. Up on the roof there's an outdoor pool and courts. What appeals to me, no surprise, is there are lots of sitting areas and a decent-sized cafe. And in January, members will get to see lots of tennis stars at the ASB Classic and Heineken Open tournaments. Some of the club will be separated off for their exclusive use but you'd still be able to steal a peek.
I do feel like a truck has run over me the next morning but I don't care, it was totally worth it. I'll be back.
I'm off on a jet plane to Palmerston North to visit the Fonterra Research Centre and learn about the benefits of probiotics to women's health.