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Alix Ramsay Shares an Alternative Look at Life After Lockdown in Tennis on the ATP Pro Tour • Roger Federer’s Return

Roger Federer

By Alix Ramsay

As the Covid vaccines continue to be rolled out around the world, governments everywhere are tentatively looking at ways to unlock their voters and restart their economies. Businesses are waiting impatiently for the green light, the moment they can reopen their doors and get back to work. But after so long in lockdown, there is much to be done to prepare for that glorious day.

We take you behind the scenes of Thwinge’s World of International Tennis Superstars (est. 1973 in Ormskirk, Lancs). Known locally as TWITS, this venerable company has been supplying (and maintaining) top level players to the ATP for decades. Now, as hopes mount for a return to normality, it is all systems go to make sure their products are all in good working order for the summer.

Scene: Mid-morning in the dispatch room of TWITS. Several workers in brown overalls are flustered. So great is the degree of panic that the plate of Eccles cakes remains untouched and the mugs of tea are left to go cold. A new recruit looks puzzled and hovers hopefully around the tray of comestibles.

Foreman [frantically scrabbling through the drawers of an old filing cabinet]: It’s got to be in here somewhere….

New recruit: What’s up?

Foreman: We’ve lost the warranty certificate. It should be in here but there’s no sign of it. Who are you, anyway?

New recruit: I’m Brian. I’m new. I’m here on the government’s Kickstart scheme to get young people into work. Erm…are any of those cakes spoken for?

Foreman: Do you know anything about sport? Tennis is particular?

New recruit [now known to all as Brian]: No, I support Burnley. About those cakes…

Foreman: There’s no time for that now. You can help look for this certificate. It’ll be an A4 size piece of paper with “Federer, Roger. Switzerland” in red at the top and underneath it should say “Launch date: 1998”. Start sorting through those old folders on that desk.

Brian: Has someone made a complaint?

Foreman: No, no, no, no, no. I just need to know that it’s expired.

Brian: Why?

Foreman: Did they tell you nothing about what we do before they sent you here?

Brian [surreptitiously stuffing an Eccles cake into his pocket]: Not really. I was hoping for something in vinyl flooring but I ended up here instead…

[At the back of the room, a man emerges from behind a huge pile of boxes.]

Man: Ted! I’ve found it!

Foreman: Sid, you’re a genius!

Sid: It was in the “Retired” file. Looks like it’s been there a while…

Foreman [otherwise known as Ted]: Let’s have a look…. Oh, flamin’ Nora. It’s a lifetime guarantee. What are we going to do?

Brian: I don’t understand….

Ted: We just don’t have the parts! Look, Federer will be 40 in the summer. When old man Thwinge first started this company, the average shelf life of any of our products was about 10 years. Even for the top end of the range. The system was set up for it: after 10 years, we’d stop manufacturing replacement bits and pieces and we let them run down. Let nature take its course, if you like.

Brian: What? You mean they died?

Sid: No, no, no… they were still viable as people and players it was just that they weren’t any good anymore. The average life span would be 80 or 85 years – longer if they took care of themselves. But after a decade, they just couldn’t cut it on the professional tour. In them days, they were in their prime at 20 and planning a few years of invitation legends doubles at 30. It was very simple. And most of the guarantees were two years, parts and labour, and only to cover manufacturing defects. Wear and tear wasn’t mentioned at all.

Ted: There was always the odd one of two who went on a bit. Connors, say. And then we built Federer. We were very pleased with him at first and then by the time he got to 35, we thought he’d run his course. He stopped for a bit so we stopped looking after him. And then he came back. And he kept on winning. He stopped again last year; hasn’t played for 14 months. We figured that would be it. But he’s coming back next week in Doha and we haven’t got so much as flange or a grommet in stock if he breaks down. I was hoping the warranty had expired so that we’d be covered; it wouldn’t be our responsibility any more. But, oh no… Federer had to be different. It’s our own fault, I suppose, for making him so bloody good in the first place. Theresa! Where’s Theresa?

Sid: She’s taking a call in the office.

Ted: Get her to tell manufacturing to dig out the Federer plans and get cracking. We’ll need knees, back bits and…oooh and throw in a couple of adductors. He hasn’t played in a while so they’ll start playing up if he gets a run of matches going.

A woman enters the dispatch room and walks over to the main desk. It is Theresa.

Theresa [picking up a mug of tea]: That phone hasn’t stopped ringing all morning. Ugh.. this brew’s gone stone cold. Typical. Right – we’ve got two priority cases to sort out. First up: Djokovic….

Ted [butting in]: Don’t get me started on him. We made him supple – we thought it would make a bit of a change – but he doesn’t half push his luck. What self-respecting man wants to be able to scratch his right ear with the big toe of his left foot? Tell me that! It’s not right. It’s just not right. We should have fitted him with one of those lights you’ve got in your car, the one that flashes red when something needs repairing. He knew he was knackered in the third round in Australia but did he stop? Did he heck as like. Now he’s got an 18th grand slam trophy and we’ve got weeks of work to make him a new abdominal oblique – and they’re bloody tricky, them. Still, he says he might not play until the clay so we’ve got a bit of time. But Goran’s not happy.

Novak Djokovic

Theresa: Oooh, Goran….[then, wistfully] I wonder if we’ve still got any Goran parts in the warehouse. I must have a look… [suddenly snapping out of her reverie] Anyway, the other major issue is Andy Murray. He wants a replacement User’s Manual. Seems he is fit enough, he is playing well enough but he has forgotten how to play well when it really, really matters. He did all right for most of the first set against Rublev in Rotterdam and then chucked his serve away with a couple of double faults. It didn’t get any better after that. He wants the instructions so he can remind himself of how it’s done.

Andy Murray

Sid: I like Muzza. He’s not always on the phone to us for stuff. Like when his hip went – he got it sorted on his own. Good thing, too, because we had all sorts of spares for him but didn’t have any right hips knocking about. I know where that manual is; I’ll pop it in the afternoon’s post to him.

Ted: Right…Theresa, get manufacturing on to the Federer case. Sid, you’ll sort out Murray and I’ll take personal charge of the abdominal oblique. Brian – make yourself useful and put the kettle on.

Sid [reading from the sports pages]: Looks like the young ones have blown a gasket again: Medvedev lost his temper and the match to Lajovic and Zverev fizzled out like a damp squib to Bublik. Both in their Rotterdam openers. Do you think we should do a product recall? Bring them in for reprogramming?

Ted: I suppose we could. Dammit all, it was so much easier with Tim Henman: he didn’t win much and when he broke down, provided it wasn’t at Wimbledon, nobody noticed. Happy days.

Theresa [blushing slightly]: Ummm, I’m just off to the warehouse to look for something. I may be a while…