'I punched the skies, as if I'd just won Wimbledon...'

When she found herself in a knock-up with Wayne Ferreira, the tennis world's no 8, Vicky Ward kept her nerve but lost her heart

It was when he refused a pre-match cup of coffee that I really started to feel sick with nerves. For some incomprehensible reason Wayne Ferreira, the blonde South African ranked eighth in world tennis, had agreed to a pre-tournament "casual practice session" with me and a few other journalists. "The aim," said British LTA coach James Lenton, "is to show you how the pros do it, to find the common denominator between his tennis and yours."

Yeah, right. Surreptitiously, as we drank our coffee, and he sipped his water, we organised a sweepstake - pounds 6 to the person who could make one winning shot or serve. Looking at him standing there so cool, so unflustered, so - it has to be said - seriously handsome, the only thing I was concerned about was making a total fool of myself. I was the only female and already there was macho talk of serves of over 100mph.

To start with, I partnered Ferreira. I stood on his left and whacked my first rusty forehand to the opposition. It whistled miles out. Ferreira, thankfully, wasn't looking.

The next one was better, as was the one after. The opposition was absolutely hopeless. I began to relax. Ferreira, I thought, had noticed my double- handed backhand, which, even if I say it myself, has always been rather good. A few more pats to the opposition, whose game was fast degenerating. "So do you play tennis?" asks Ferreira between taking shots. After at least two minutes' play this seems almost rude. "Actually, I'm a member of Queen's," I reply stiffly. "Really?" He looks all animated. "Don't you just love the grass?"

Actually, members are not allowed to play on the grass until after pros like him have massacred it in the Stella Artois. I tell Ferreira this and he looks incredulous. "But that's terrible," he says. "You ought to be able to use it most of the year."

By now, I am in love. Not only does he play tennis like a dream, he is bright and principled. I feel like fainting, but am not allowed to because Fenton barks at me to come and play against Ferreira. He is to volley while I alternate forehands and backhands no matter where the ball bounces.

"I'll try and send them to the right places," says Ferreira, which makes me feel awfully guilty, because all I want to do is win that sweepstake. Not so easy, I discover. He is like a wall at the net and swapping between forehand and backhand is sapping my strength. Finally, though, I achieve it - one down the tramlines, low and whistling. I am so euphoric that I raise my left arm and punch the skies, as if I have just won Wimbledon. "Yes!" I shout and he looks rather surprised. I have just broken a rule of professional tennis etiquette, I realise. A knock-up is only a knock- up.

Afterwards, I get a chance to talk to him properly. Does he ever get nervous? "Sometimes, if it's a final or if the opposition is really tough. The key thing is to breathe deeply and hold on to your serve in the first few games." How does he prepare for Wimbledon? "Practice, practice, practice." Relaxation techniques? "I play golf with a friend, and this year I'm going fishing." Does he drink alcohol? "Actually, one beer can be quite good for you, because of the carbohydrates." Pause. His eyes twinkle. "But only one." Does he eat of a lot of bananas?" He stares as if I am quite mad. "I eat pretty much like anybody else. If I'm playing in the morning, I'll have a big breakfast, cereal and pancakes, or if I'm playing in the afternoon I'll have a big lunch."

Finally I ask what I really want to know: any tips for my game? "Well, you and me, we're on the same level. You just need to practise," he says. To my amazement he is not joking. "You know how to hit the ball properly," he says. "You must know that all you need to do is play lots."

Earlier, I'd heard him saying that 28 was the age when it became too late to try to win Wimbledon - which means I've got three years. Right then if he'd offered to coach me, I would have abandoned everything and gone for it. As it was, when I woke the next day my aching limbs reminded me that it takes more than a burst of coeur d'esprit to make a champion.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Sport
Robin van Persie leaves the field at the King Power Stadium last Sunday
football
News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

Arts and Entertainment
tvPresenter back after daughter's Halloween accident
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
tv

Co-creator Mark Gatiss dropped some very intriguing hints ahead of the BBC drama's return next year

Arts and Entertainment
music Band accidentally drops four-letter description at concert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

    £8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

    Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

    £55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

    Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

    Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines