Last summer we highlighted the difficulties of finding a decent place to play tennis in the capital in our article "Anyone For Free Tennis"? That piece pre-supposed that you would already have a hitting partner in place, ready at a couple of hours notice to crack open a tin of balls and provide you with an opponent just not quite good enough to beat you. But what if you're new to London, or haven't picked up a racquet in years, but now live handily close to a good set of courts and only need worthy opposition to get started?
Help is at hand from London Tennis, a website offering you the chance to search for someone to return your serve according to their enthusiasm, ability or availability from amongst more than 3,000 people who have already signed up. The friendly, but business-like, profiles entered for those on the database seem typically to point to keenness and self-deprecation, but you have to play a few games and then send in the results for the site's ratings system to get a proper idea of where you fit on its continuum between World Standard (Level 1 - think Andy Murray) and Recreational (Level 9 - think anyone else playing Davis Cup singles for Britain). You can narrow down your options by specifying a radius around your chosen post-code and, once you've found the Borg to your McEnroe, you can also search for a suitable court, though many player profiles nominate a preferred venue.
Signing up to the site is free, but if the bug bites you can enter a league of players around your own ability level. Fifteen pounds will get you started on a twelve week season, with each subsequent campaign only costing a tenner. And there's more at stake than just your pride:
Both players should bring a new tube of balls to the match. One tube should be opened for use in the match. The winner should take away the unopened tube, and the loser should take the match balls.
If you struggle in the league there's always the site knockout tournament featuring a round every fortnight until the finals, currently set for November. We hope they'll be held indoors.
Picture of old racquets at Spitalfields Market via Alex Whittaker's Flickr stream.