It is Friday and I look forward playing Laurens Jan after a long hard day’s work. Since he is retired, not so serious anymore, and also lacks serious competition, I am suddenly his victim.
OK, OK, I am somewhat late as an important client just called when I had to leave. I see LJ already on court doing his warm-up exercises. Showing off already how high he can still jump and how quickly he can touch the walls, all without a racquet. In my time we used to play with a racquet. That is the whole idea of the game...isn’t it?
Oh yes, then he shows me how flexible he is. Arms and legs everywhere. Do you need those bizarre positions on court to get to the ball and hit it in the middle of your strings?
He uses the best racquet, beautifully strung, perfectly balanced. I just got a racquet out of the bag, probably one of those very old ones he did not like to play with anymore. His equipment is all first class: head bands, wrist bands, all well-chosen. I just wear some old gear and funny zebra-striped shorts (which are too short), which he gave to me on my last birthday. It looks funny on an old man like me, I quite agree, however you do anything to please your son.
He always tells that the name on the court is his. Funny enough it is the family name, so it is also mine! And who got the longest rights here?
It is always the same story. I have to do routines and drills with funny names, which he expects me to remember… The Shabana boast-drive, Willstrop drop routine, and so on. In my time we just warmed up the ball and started an intense game which we were eager to win. I thought we were going to play squash!
As a father you teach your kids all you know. From an early age I’ve taught them all the squash skills you could imagine. However now, if I want to correct (read improve) something and tell him to take the volley more in front and earlier, as a wise father I say nothing. His answers will be so predictable: “That is so old fashioned, dad. Neil Harvey always said this.. Rory Watt always told me that…”. And other names of well-known coaches will be thrown at me. And I am only his dad. With two more national titles, mind you.
OK, the drill is finally determined, I remembered it. Then during the middle of the drill my ex-pro son suddenly starts doing court sprints. As if he’s saying: “Look dad, how fit am I?!” But at the same time he forgets that I am waiting and standing still and that my old body and muscles are getting cold and stiff. He does anything to try to beat me.
Same trick with the slippers. The exercise requires targets, so he takes his own slipper. A small size compared to mine… If we would use my slipper (size 15), the whole exercise would be too easy. Last week I promised LJ to take his baby shoes (see picture) along as a target next time we play.
He likes to hit the ball extra hard against his old man. That is what we do on tour, dad! So he made up his particular length game, so he can really hammer the ball as hard as he can to the back of the court. All the time. And I really mean: all the time!
“No problem, son”, I say. “Let me struggle with the delicate boasts, volley drops and soft drop shots. Those really require perfect skill.
We always have a great game and enjoy ourselves. We have fun. I am obviously proud that my ex-pro son still plays squash with me.
The advantage playing Laurens is not necessarily the home-cooked protein-rich meals my wife serves me when I get home, no, I just sleep always very early, very satisfied, as a log that evening.
The crazy disadvantage playing him is that he writes articles and tells the whole social media environment that he beats his old dad in a game with funny rules to make absolutely sure he wins.
Then he tells me how many reactions he got. That people liked it. Beating his father twice a week and twice his age. Great! Thanks.
In my time we could only send one telegram or later make one telephone call (that is a telephone with a wire) to tell one person that you had won!
Robert-Jan Anjema (guest columnist)