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Match point: Why playing tennis is so good for you

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Anyone for tennis? James Allen talks to Tom Wu, founder of the Tung Chug World Cup Tennis Tournament, to find out why getting on court has multiple fitness benefits – for everyone.

Tennis has not always been a sport for the masses. One of the so-called ‘gentleman’s games,’ it was for a long time an elite pastime, beyond the reach of most. Even today, the worldfamous Wimbledon, hosted at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, whiffs of privilege and tends to attract a certain kind of spectator. Tickets to final matches change hands for tens of thousands of dollars, and the likes of David Beckham, Hollywood actors and even the Queen of England are frequently in attendance.

Whether or not you can get court-side tickets, Wimbledon makes July the hottest month on the international tennis calendar… but March is the time to catch a game in Tung Chung – at the Tung Chung World Cup Tennis Tournament, an event that is open to residents of Tung Chung Crescent, Seaview Crescent, Coastal Skyline, Caribbean Coast, The Visionary and Century Link.

“Last year, 64 players competed in the doubles-only matches, and we had over 100 people watching from the sidelines. Anyone over 16 can compete in the tournament, and it has been well received since I founded it in 2016,” says Tung Chung resident Tom Wu. “We hope to get at least 10 teams this year.”

Tung Chug World Cup Tennis Tournament, tom wu, nationalities

A full-body workout

Tom is eager to discuss why more people should consider getting into the sport, and it’s fair to say he looks the part. Decked out from head to toe in traditional tennis whites and carrying a bag that looks like it’s holding half a dozen rackets, he plans to get on court later in the day.

“I’ve been playing tennis since I was at university,” says Tom, who grew up in Canada. “In high school, I was into basketball, volleyball, other sports, but then, for me, tennis took over. It’s good for all-round fitness – many folks might not realise that playing tennis for one hour burns about 600 calories, making it as effective as jogging or an indoor cycling class.”

Indeed, there can be no doubt that playing tennis fairly competitively, on a regular basis, will get you fit. Sports blogger Michael Cramton writes: “The quick anaerobic movements the sport demands burns fat, increases your heart rate and promotes higher energy levels. In addition to the cardiovascular health benefits, the game also combines vigorous strength training in your legs, arms and upper body. And it’s not just in a static repetitive set of muscles. A tennis match requires players to move from side to side, up and back, and at differing speeds to test a variety of muscles in the legs. And the inherent movements in a typical match help to improve forearm strength, back muscles and core development.”

Heart-healthy matches

Bearing all this in mind, it’s no surprise that tennis has a reputation for being hard on the body – and Tom acknowledges this, but only up to a point. “Even though a lot of people say it’s a high-impact sport and bad for your knees, if you read studies, running is even worse,” he says. “What’s more, most of us are not playing at a pro level; it’s all about how you play. Most people’s objective is to have fun and to be healthy. These days, if my opponent hits a really good shot, I just say ‘Nice shot!’ I don’t bother to go and chase it. I just figure my knees are more important! So it’s all for health.”

Speaking of health, picking up a racket can do more than just help you stay in shape. A 2016 study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, by an international team of researchers, shows that regularly participating in racket sports can reduce the risk of death at any given age by almost half.

By studying over 80,000 adults aged over 30 in England and Scotland, and comparing their activity types and levels with others over a nine-year period, researchers found that playing racket sports can reduce your risk of death by 47%. By contrast, running and football appeared to offer little protection, while swimming came in second, reducing risk of death by 28%.

Looking just at the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, the team found that racket sports reduced the risk by 56%, swimming by 41%. Running, cycling and football showed no protective effect.

For the answer to why tennis is a heart-healthy exercise, you need to look to the way matches are structured. A typical match lasts two hours tops, and it’s broken up into a series of intervals –something tennis great Bjorn Borg describes as “a thousand little sprints.” Interval training, like this, accelerates your heart rate, while decreasing strain on your heart, making it optimal for improved cardiovascular health.

Set for life

For Tom, the benefits of tennis run even deeper than health and fitness; he says the mental and social gains are not to be underestimated.

Tung Chug World Cup Tennis Tournament, tom wu, nationalities

“Tennis is not only a physical game, it’s a strategy game too,” he explains. “You don’t have to hit hard… tennis is all mental. It helps develop tactical thinking and it keeps your mind moving, just like chess. That’s one thing. Second thing is you’re socialising with people. When you run you don’t talk to anybody but in tennis, between games, you still talk to people. You’re using your brain and your listening skills.”

Certainly, the social aspect of the Tung Chung World Cup Tennis Tournament is a real motivator for Tom. “We get groups of people of different nationalities to play together,” he explains. “The idea came from the Discovery Bay Nations Cup, which I competed in in 1994. I thought it was a wonderful idea particularly because I had just moved here from Canada. Tournaments like these are a good way to meet neighbours from your home country, and of course everywhere else.”

While all sports benefit us in various ways, it would seem that racket sports, such as tennis, can be incredibly effective at improving both physical, mental and social aspects of life, regardless of your age.

As Tom gathers up his gear to leave, he remarks that he’s off to a match, playing some senior residents who organise weekly sessions. Rather incredibly, his oldest opponent is 90 years old and still playing regularly. Tom laughs. “He runs faster than I do!”

You can catch the Tung Chung World Cup Tennis Tournament at Coastal Skyline Residents Club on March 24. To sign up to play or find out more, email [email protected], or visit the Tung Chung World Cup Tennis Tournament Group Facebook page.

Images: Andrew Spires

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