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You might as well know right now, what I know about tennis might cover the back of a cigarette card but it would probably fit more comfortably on the reverse of a postage stamp. I have been putting off the writing of this article but that would hardly be fair. There is a surprising number of cigarette cards which have a tennis theme and it is a pretty popular sport.

Given the fact nobody else is going to write this thing it is down to me so forgive the short comings.

I used to play tennis, mixed doubles (which gives you some idea of the motivating force getting me into tennis shorts.) I was more at home playing croquet but that does not help much here. It has been far to long since I played that game in the Oxfordshire countryside, they were good days. I only thank my lucky stars I did not realise how good at the time, it would have probably killed me too leave, or I would have killed to stay <g>. I miss those days and depression is never far from that thought so best I move on.

'The older I get, the better I used to be.'

Despite all this lack of interest some of my most remembered televised sporting moments have been to do with tennis. Virginia Wade winning Wimbledon in 1977, the Jubilee year. McEnroe and Borg Wimbledon finals. Dan Maskell commentator with the sort of authority and measured tones only time can create.

John McEnroe was a hero of mine even before he became establishment. He sums it up nicely, 'The older I get, the better I used to be.' How can you fail to like a fellow like that.

All right, so it is all to do with Wimbledon but I am British so please forgive me. There is precious little for an Englishman to find interesting in world tennis nowadays but at least this tournament is played in Britain. I know we have a very capable fellow who looks like winning a fair bit but he is about as English as our boxing heavyweight champion, you know the one I mean, the Canadian one.

It is a shame we cannot manage the same trick in football, if we just adopted the German national side our success rate will increase markedly I feel.

McEnroe was my last tennis hero, his skill was something you could only wish to emulate. His temper also added to the fun enormously.

Since those salad days though technology has marched forward and it is all about the service game fuelled by better fitness and larger racket heads. The crowd start clapping if the ball is returned nowadays. This has about as much to do with the game of tennis that I remember as drag racing has with racing cars.

My interest in tennis waned when the cyborgs took over as typified by the well-known court humorist Ivan Lendll. I might have warmed to the fellow a bit more if he was not forever tapping the french clay out of the tread in his trainers, even on grass courts. That said he might have just been attracting attention to his sponsors. Who knows? Like most of these people his only fault was that he was a through professional and tightly focused on the task in hand and a winner, which made him a good moving billboard for the advertisers (and almost as wooden).

There can be a good argument put together that Tennis evolved from Real Tennis which was played in France during the 12th century.

Fear not though, the oldest court still in use is in the UK, Hampton Court in fact, as set up by Henry VIII.

Tennis was introduced by Major Walton Clopton Wingfield.

Christmas was obviously not as much fun as it is today because in 1873, in Wales he played the game called 'Sphairistike'.

Which thankfully ended up being called Tennis.

Okay I have pretty much exhausted my knowledge of the characters and the skills involved in the game of tennis so how fortunate it is for me that Players, Tennis [1936] was served up. 50 cards which details some of the basic strokes of the game by showing you how some of the best players in the world, at that time, were playing them.

The cards themselves are interesting from a printing point of view and there is a lot more going on than just a person stuck on a green background. Anyone interested in the printing process should head here.

Most cigarette cards content themselves with having information on the reverse of the card but this is not enough for Players when dealing with tennis. There is information on the front and back of the cards which makes the set quite unusual.

I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to sports attire. No reason, I am certainly no traditionalist when it comes to my own attire so quite why I want to see my cricketers and tennis players in whites I cannot comprehend. I suspect it has something to do with continuity. This approach does not stand any scrutiny either because we have all seen the pictures of Edwardian women playing tennis in skirts which reached the ground which does seem a little impractical. However wearing the colours of your sponsor does not improve your game even if it does improve the net profits of the player in question. It would be nice to get a break from advertising every so often. I think I've made that point.

Anyway back to the set. The individuals are almost all dressed in the traditional whites although two women, Miss James and Miss Yorke (cards 32/33) have on blue and yellow cardigans on for some reason, Mrs Moody is wearing an orange cardigan on card 21. The women seem also to have a problem on deciding the length of skirt to be wearing, some are below the knee and some are above the knee and still others are wearing a pair of short trousers.

The chaps seem to have an easier time of it, almost to a man they are wearing long trousers apart from three of the blighters who are wearing shorts. Then there is one fellow who seems to be sporting a cricket jumper but that might be just me being ignorant. It also seems the men have less trouble with the sun than the women as many of the ladies are sporting sun visors and the chaps do not.

All cards are vertical format and the one thing you can say about the solid green background is that is makes a uniform set when framed.

Players, Tennis, 1936
Details from Card 2
Service F.J Perry
The Wimbledon champion has a crisp and easy service action. Note body-weight coming forward into stroke, yet with right foot kept behind line until after impact to avoid foot-faulting. (this info on card front)
Fred Perry holds three balls for his first service. Before throwing up ball, he settles body-weight on left leg. As ball is thrown straight up and racket taken behind head, body is leaned back from waist, at the same time turning at hips to bring left should more towards net. Weight is still borne by left leg. As racket swings forward, body turns and leans forward into stroke. A last moment wrist movement brings racket well over ball, and controls angle of racket face to give required direction.

The set shows how the game has evolved from that time from card 1. The service, certainly in the women's game it seems a somewhat tamer effort as compared with today. Card 3 is the men's service demonstrated by none other than the great Fred Perry, but again there is not the aggression displayed in the modern game. The card points out the service action does naturally shift him forwards. It also notes that he holds three balls for first service, which seems a bit excessive.

Rather than tun through this list of past greats I have put a checklist down the right hand side of the screen for all to take a peek at. There are some British names in there and what is more they are winning, it dates the set. Actually running down the set there is not the diversity of countries represented as there would be today. The Japanese champion is a rare sight in any tennis tournament as far as I know so it is good to see him here. I might be off-track here but I do not remember the Japanese making a big splash in tennis. Someone will put me right if I am wrong there.

Running down the list of shots it is good to see the basics are covered and we are not worrying to much about the cross-court backhand volley with the western grip. There seem to be a lot of this technical stuff but as I have just noticed Greg R. the British number one, you know, as British as Lennox Lewis, happens to be wearing a wrist support complete with advertising logo. My tennis is still stuck in the days of the 1930's where getting it over the net was more important than worrying if the logo was visible on my socks.