Champagne, strawberries, a plethora of white… it can only mean one thing. Tennis season! Today is the official rest day and halfway point of The Wimbledon Championships and the nation has been gripped by tennis fever. Despite being a keen spectator for many years, it was only last month that I picked up a racket again. Memories of short tennis lessons and summers spent playing doubles with my family came flooding back and I can safely say I am now well and truly hooked. Which is why, when an email popped into my inbox last week inviting me to an exclusive PlayBrave media day at the Boodles Tennis event at Stoke Park, I was quick off the mark with my enthusiastic reply.
The intimate 2,000 seater stadium at The Boodles Tennis
For those like me who have not heard of the event before, let me divulge a little about tennis’ best kept secret. Set at the stunning Stoke Park Country Club, The Boodles is an intimate, luxury grass court tournament, occurring one week prior to Wimbledon. No seat at the 2,000 seater stadium is further than 12 metres from the court, which means guests have unparalleled views of the A-list players, who over the years have included Murray, Djokovic, Agassi and Nadal. The atmosphere is relaxed and light-hearted, the players joke with the crowd and the sound of corks popping around the court is as common as the sound of tennis balls flying through the air.
The stunning Stoke Park Country Club – the setting for numerous films including James Bond’s Goldfinger, Layer Cake and Bridget Jones’ Diary
So on to the day itself. First stop was the PlayBrave tent, where I was kitted out in a fab blue Ursula wrap dress, white Shadow cap and matching white wristband – I do love a sweatband! I never thought I would play sport in a skirt, but the lightweight fabric and body-skimming fit meant I felt more comfortable than I would in my usual sports leggings and t-shirt. To protect my modesty I also chose a pair of white Kara ball shorts, with special inverted pockets. It is amazing how a superior quality sports kit can make you feel so special. I genuinely felt like a pro.
Ursula wrap dress, £75, Kara ball shorts, £29, Shadow cap, £20, Relentless wristband, £7, all by PlayBrave
Nicole V-Neck Tee, £55 and Monique skort, £49, both PLayBrave
All four girls in our group opted for a skirt (or skort), with colours ranging from the gorgeous white and pale blue two-piece chosen by Natalie, the cute white Tour skort and matching fuchsia trimmed tank chosen by Jenny and the sleek black Monique skirt and Nicole V-neck Tee worn by Beth. We all unanimously agreed we felt like professionals in our fab tennis outfits. Do you think we look the part?
Posing on court with PlayBrave MD Simon Dowell
(Left to right: Wayne Gordon, Kevin Palmer, Me, Elsbeth Carr, Natalie Robinson, MD Simon Dowell, coach Matt Bell, Jenny Pacey)
Next stop was the courts, where head coach Matt Bell put us through our paces with a tennis lesson that included shuttle runs, volley rallies and a game of piggie in the middle. At one point I looked up to admire the players on the courts next door, only to find it was 6ft4 Australian favourite Nick Kyrgios and 6ft6 20-year old German Alexander Zverev. Being 5ft7 I am rarely dwarfed, however I truly felt like I was in the land of the giants and was incredibly excited to be sharing the grass with these phenomenal players. Thankfully I was not on the receiving end of one of those killer shots.
Nick Kyrgios warming up on the court next to us
Taking team courtside selfies
This was only the start of the day as the fabulously hospitable PlayBrave MD Simon Dowell had a treat of an afternoon lined up for us – a champagne reception, a delicious 3 course meal and an afternoon of sporting entertainment from tennis superstars Zverev, Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkanikasis.
Starter: Crab, prawn and avocado terrine
Dessert: Deliciously decadant cherry and chocolate ganache
A stunning tennis themed centrepiece concluded our lunch
On to the tennis where I was lucky enough to watch Nick Kyrgios beat his opponent Philipp Kohlshreiber in straight sets. Despite his ongoing hip injury it was amazing to witness his phenomenal serve from such close quarters.
Nick Kyrgios (AUS) d. Philipp Kohlshreiber (GER) 6-4 6-4
Then it was on to a jovial yet nonetheless competitive match between current World number 10 seed Alexander Zverev (highly tipped for future championship titles) and Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis (or Koko as he is affectionately nicknamed by his fans). The players seem to be firm friends and despite a close match there was also plenty of on-court banter.
Alexander Zverev (GER) d. Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) 7-6(4) 6-7(4) 10-2.
Image: © PlayBrave Ltd
After a fantastic afternoon of tennis, bubbles and fabulous company it was time to interview the lovely Simon Dowell, who had invited me to Stoke Park for this wonderful day. As official sponsor of the tournament for the last 6 years, Simon explained how PlayBrave had come to be associated with tennis’ best kept secret and all about his ‘eureka moment’ in the Lake District in 2009.
A selfie with Simon outside the PlayBrave tent
Simon: I was on a walking holiday in 2009 in the Lake District, kitted out in a merino wool t-shirt, gilet and packline jacket. It was minus 15 but I couldn’t believe how warm and comfortable I felt. I went back to my tennis club and the head coach was wearing 3-4 jackets and could hardly swing a racket. It looked ridiculous. I thought to myself why don’t we bring some of those outdoor layering ideas into tennis. I went to Wigmore Sports and they loved the idea. I then had to come up with a brand and for me PlayBrave epitomises what we all love about sport. It’s all about ‘playing brave’ in the big moments, performing under pressure, whatever your sport. I then had to find a designer…
Me: Do you have one in-house designer?
Simon: We actually have a team of designers now but I worked very closely with the original designer to capture a special aesthetic. It was a fantastic collaboration, working closely to make sure the designs looked beautiful, but were also very functional to enable completely free movement and to liberate your swing. One compliment we receive from our customers is that when they are playing in our garments they don’t feel like they are wearing anything.
Me: I can testament to that. I have worn the dress and I felt very comfortable.
Simon: One of things that really excites me is when you see someone in our garments, bringing them to life and you can see the free-flowing design we have created.
Jenny and Natalie put the PlayBrave garments to the test on court. Image: ©PlayBraveLtd
Me: The short skirt seemed to be a popular choice today (with the girls obviously, not with the gents).
Simon: Yes! The interesting thing about tennis in this day and age, is lots of people like the more classic tennis look, which is very smart and elegant. We cater to that audience, but also lots of people are wearing gym wear on the tennis court. We have a new fitness collection coming out later in the year and I am excited about people being able to wear our clothes in the gym, when they’re playing tennis and also mixing and matching. All our garments are made in Portugal, I think you felt the fabrics?
Me: Yes they are amazing. So lightweight!
Simon: That comes from the Portugese fabrics and their workmanship. I have visited all the factories we work with, I know the factory owners. For me it feels very personal. And all our garments are being crafted by family owned factories, which is another special element.
Tour Tank, £35, and Tee, £39, both by PlayBrave
Me: Tell me about your involvement with Boodles and how you came to sponsor this lovely event?
Simon: The opportunity arose when a friend of mine was looking for tickets. He contacted the owner of the event, one conversation led to another and three weeks before the event 6 years ago we were offered the opportunity to sponsor. For me The Boodles is very intimate, it’s personal, it’s a niche event for people that really love tennis and for us as a niche sportswear brand it was a perfect opportunity. I think it’s a great partnership.
Me: Final question… who would be your dream tennis player to dress?
Simon: My favourite tennis player is Roger Federer. He embodies elegance and grace and is a truly exceptional player. Obviously he’s signed up to Nike, I’m sure for life, but if I were to see Roger Federer kitted out in PlayBrave that would be a unique moment for me. That would be it!
For now I guess we’ll just have to do 🙂
Massive thanks to Simon Dowell, MD of PlayBrave for the amazing hospitality and the gorgeous tennis outfit, and to Richard from Henman Communications for the invite. One of my favourite days ever and a must for all tennis fans!
The PlayBrave clothing collection is available to purchase at: https://www.playbravesports.com
View my full interview with Simon Dowell here:
The Boodles Tennis is held at Stoke Park Country Club, Park Road, Stoke Poges, Bucks SL2 4PG. http://theboodles.com/