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crazy tennis ladyNo one warned me that joining a women’s tennis league to relieve stress was akin to donning a bikini to scale Mount Everest. I was thirty-five and my marriage was falling apart. Depressed and anxious, resurrecting my tennis game seemed like a great antidote to the pressure I was feeling at home.

I had some skills. Growing up in the seventies, my boyfriend and I spent hours on the court, visions of golden girl Chrissie Evert and bad boy Jimmy Connors dancing in our heads. But the friendly rallies we shared in no way prepared me for the sheer life-and-death competition I was to face in league doubles matches twenty years later – and that was from my teammates.

Which brings us to Important Fact #1 about women’s amateur tennis: No one wants you to join their team – unless you are, in fact, Chrissie Evert. I soon discovered that mean girls grow up to become amateur competitive tennis players. And because there are only so many slots on each team, they are guarded by women whose survival skills rival those of the Donner party. We engaged in playoffs, pitting snarling teammates against one another to snare those coveted positions.

Which brings us to Important Fact #2 about women’s amateur tennis: Most players graduate from the Tonya Harding school of sportsmanship; hence, the saying, “When in doubt, call it out.” There are typically no officials on the court, so adherence to the rules is dependent on the honor system. Translation: Cheating is only frowned upon when your opponents get away with it first.

As in life off the court, fashion is king. Captains scour available apparel to choose the least flattering team outfits they can possibly find. That leads us to Important Fact #3 about women’s amateur tennis: You’ll need Crisco to get in and out of most women’s tennis clothing. While six-foot-two beanpole Maria Sharapova looks swell in her skintight Nike halter dress, your average five-foot-three, one-hundred-sixty-pound mother of four looks more like an eight-inch salami stuffed into a three-inch casing.

Speaking of salami, here’s Important Fact #4 about women’s amateur tennis: It’s all about the noshing and the gossip. Sure, you can enjoy some heated battles out there on the courts, but the post-match gourmet spreads provided by the host teams make the backbiting and fashion faux pas worth enduring. Where else can you get those tasty turkey rollups, fresh fruit salads and homemade chocolate chip cookies, topped with a dollop of dirt-dishing about your teammates and opponents?

As in junior high school, women’s team sports do breed friendships. They’re just not lasting ones. Once you graduate to adult league tennis, last month’s BPF (Best Partner Forever) is likely to become this month’s mortal enemy number one. Alas, the world of women’s tennis is a fickle one. Which segues directly into Important Fact #5 about women’s amateur tennis: Just when you think you’ve gelled with your doubles partner you’ll feel a strange sensation between your shoulder blades. It’s the knife she’s lodged there as she wordlessly dumped you for another player. You’ll rack your brain for the reason: Jackie has a better backhand? She serves more aces than I do? She holds up better under pressure? No, it’s D, none of the above. She has a five-bedroom beachfront home on Nantucket and your BPF is spending a week in August as her guest.

Doubles is, in theory, so much more fun than singles. While it’s lonely out there by yourself, there’s nothing more comforting than sharing your wins with a partner. Unless, of course, you lose. And that unfortunate and inevitable outcome brings us to Important Fact #6 about women’s amateur tennis: It’s never your fault when you lose.

“Susie had an off day,” you whisper as you both exit the court, post-match, heads ducked in shame as your teammates try unsuccessfully to wipe the scorn off their faces. “She couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.” And though it may be true that Susie had an off day, she also had a hard time hitting a sound shot while you rolled your eyes, sighed loudly and dropped your shoulders down to your knees after each mistake. Doubles: It’s all about teamwork!

Yes, partners win together and lose together. But before they take to the court, repeating this mantra should be mandatory: “There is no prize money. There is no prize money.” Because unlike at the pro level where winning a grand slam doubles match earns you over a half million dollars, winning at the amateur level doesn’t even get you an extra cookie from the snack table. Which leads to Important Fact #7 about women’s amateur tennis: Win or lose, you still have to go home and do laundry.

Finally, where would we be without those self-appointed team captains who call all the shots? That leads us to Important Fact #8 about women’s amateur tennis: Power is wielded by women who make Attila the Hun look like Mother Teresa. So, above all else, suck up to your captain and give her a generous gift – maybe a new BMW convertible – at the end of the season.

I’ve had my own twenty-five-year love/hate affair with team tennis and, as I prepare to once again step into the fray I can only picture Eve proffering the forbidden fruit to Adam. In a few days I’ll find myself registering for my new team online, all the while shushing the little voice in my ear that’s whispering, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it!” Soon the burning question in my life will be, “Who’s bringing the chocolate chip cookies?”

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How To Survive on A Women’s Tennis Team: 8 Essential Facts You Need To Know was last modified: by