This is the 3rd time this year that I have travelled to Sharm El Sheikh to compete in 10Ks but I knew it well before coming as I had been here twice before as a coach. Both times one of my players won the tournament and now I can happily say that I have taken the title here as well.
They lay on 48 tournaments a year here and it is all tremendously easy. A 5 hour flight from London and the hotel is barely a 10 minute car journey from the airport. Once you are checked in and settled in to the hotel you really don’t need to leave until you head home, as it is a typical all inclusive resort. 55$ per night including breakfast and dinner is more than reasonable and the courts are within serving distance of the main reception.
There are a few negatives of course. The courts are fairly uneven and patchy as they are old and made out of melted rubber, so you never can be quite sure of the bounce… excessive footwork is required to combat that one! The real kicker is that they do not provide a Physio. A man with a first aid box and deep heat after a ten minute wait is the best you can expect. Don’t get injured is the best answer I have for that. Oh and toilets are 200 metres away, which really doesn’t prove to be any problem at all until your opponent takes a toilet break, walking as slowly as possible after losing the first set. If the girl wants to take her time she can amble along for 20 minutes or so. 22 minutes is the longest I have been forced to wait, which was in fact longer than either of the sets we played! Many of the girls complain about these things, but this is the bottom level, be grateful that the tournament is on and the courts are safe I say.
Sharm has many charming qualities other than the tournament, which is useful so you can interrupt the monotony of it all. There are plenty of pools to cool off in after your match (if you are playing in the day), but I choose to wander down to the reef so I can cool down amongst the curiosities of the Red Sea. A ten minute swim is great to shake the legs out before refueling at lunch, and I am a strong swimmer and feel quite at home in water introducing myself to the fish.
These are the perfect tournaments to play for any young guns starting out, as along with the ease and accessibility, there are always spaces in qualifying so you don’t need any previous experience on the circuit. I first came here as a player in July this year, as with no ranking and only confirming my return in June, it was the only tournament I could get into. I had an incredibly busy schedule over the summer but in amongst all of the tournaments I was at with my players, I managed to find one week free so I hopped on a flight to give it a crack. This hectic schedule meant I couldn’t prepare as I wanted to but I didn’t care, I just wanted to get stuck in and see where I was at.
It was the holy festival of Ramadan during the week I was here, which meant that matches started at 8pm and continued to around 1am usually. This was to be kind to the practicing Muslims that wouldn’t eat during the day, as a tennis match in 40 degrees with no food in you is not a pleasant combination (it was still 40 degrees at midnight I might add). I really enjoyed the night matches and I qualified and made it to the semis, losing to the eventual winner of 4 in a row here, and I was delighted with my performances. I was so chuffed to be back playing again but WOW was it a shock to my body. I knew I would be sore but I felt like I had rowed across the Channel all over again! That, by the way was one hell of an experience I will never forget, but a long story for another day. So as much as I was impatient to play more tournaments, it was a welcome relief to my body that I was spending the next 2 weeks in Uzbekistan coaching at junior events.
Undoubtedly the most tedious part of competing again has been reviving my fitness levels to that of a professional athlete and leaving the coffee drinking, salad eating, gym avoiding coach behind. I was able to get my fitness back on the practice court pretty sharpish but matches are a different type of fitness, and you can only improve that by playing a lot of matches. I haven’t found the training tedious at all, it is just the time that is required for the training to take effect and I am impatient to get back to my peak and push on from there.
I am ready to give this week everything I have got and this will be my last tournament of the year, and last visit to Sharm as a player. I know I will be moving on to bigger and better things in 2015 but thank you Sharm… I’ve had a blast!