Veteran tennis player John Keeble reflects on Orton’s success

WHEN John Keeble heard Myles Orton had become only the second Suffolk player to win the East of England Tennis Championship, the veteran could have been forgiven for being more than a little bit envious.

Keeble, a former four-time Suffolk Senior championship winner and four-time junior champion, achieved the feat in 1959 as a fresh-faced 20 year-old and went on to play at Junior Wimbledon.

He remained the only player from Suffolk to achieve the feat until Orton’s recent heroics.

Fifty-three years later and at the age of 73, Keeble is still an active squash and raquetball player – while partaking in the occasional game of tennis – and believes Orton has a superb opportunity to progress to a good standard in the game.

“In my day, the support you needed had to be financial. I would have thought the money will be there now and this lad will have more of an opportunity to progress up the ladder than past players,” said Keeble

“The coaching has improved in Suffolk too and that has certainly benefited the youngsters coming through. I think coaching started at a low crossbar and going through the years there have been several people who have done a lot to improve the standard in the area.

“Avenues such as Elena Baltacha’s Academy are an absolutely great opportunity too and the more facilities like those means there will be more chance of success.

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“Andy Murray’s success at the Olympics will have also helped and the more the game is in the spotlight, the more people will want to take part themselves.

“The chance of slipping through the net now, compared to my day, is smaller but I would have a word of warning; very few make that last step right to the very top, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication by the guy himself and support from his family.

“But he sounds like he is a good player and has got a chance.”

Keeble defeated Pakistani player Tariq Afridi to secure his solitary East of England title, for which he has fond memories, and revealed how he thinks the game has changed 50-odd years on.

“When I won the title I received a voucher for �25 to spend on tennis equipment, we had to spend it on that,” recalled Keeble.

“The game is a lot different today to what it was back then. It has got quicker and the surfaces played on these days are faster.

“The balls are harder, the racket heads are bigger, giving a bigger sweet spot and so players have had to adapt to get the best out of the new system.

“There is a lot more power now, whereas we used it when it was needed and utilised the top-spin and slices a lot more to pull people out of position. We used to try and make our opponents move as much as possible.

“Now when you see a 20 or 30 shot rally, the majority of shots are played from the same place. However, people like Andy Murray are starting to use the drop shot again and that is what we used to try and do.”

Despite being in his seventies, Keeble, who lives in Coddenham has no intention of slowing down.

“I hope I can play for a few years yet,” he explained.

“I have got that competitive edge, I think you either have or you don’t, and even if it was a game of tiddly-winks I would want to win.

“I think that helps and the fact that I still enjoy playing sport.”

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