A die-hard player, I’ve been wholeheartedly and uncontrollably addicted to tennis from my early 20s until today. Or at least until June 17, 2023.
Nothing deterred me from a competitive game – not the threat of a Category 5 hurricane in the Florida Keys with an incredulous news crew circling in a chopper overhead. No meniscus tear, torn rotator cuff, nor bra strap snapped mid-volley. I scheduled my career around my tennis. I even forgot to have children.
But three months ago, I moved to coastal Delaware. Eager to make new tennis friends, I assured myself that as soon as I got settled, I’d join the nearby club. As my husband and I coaxed our timid little dog around the new neighborhood, I poked my head into the sole community tennis court. Instead of a singles game or heated doubles competition, I saw four portable pickleball nets and a dizzying array of lines painted on the surface.
The next morning I detected the unmistakable clatter of plastic balls ricocheting off hard paddles. Of course I knew about pickleball. It was the silly game I’d played a couple of times. I’d even taken a clinic or two just to see what all the fuss was about. I’d lost more than a few tennis comrades to the lesser sport and read countless news articles about neighbors suing parks over the infernal racket. I’d witnessed tennis and pickleball players nearly come to blows over shared turf. And here I was, newly landed in a neighborhood that had converted a pristine tennis court into a mosh pit for picklers.
I was still buried in boxes and a growing builder “to do” list. While I was twitching to get back on the tennis court, I’d heard about a neighbor who was a strong pickleball player and taught beginners. He agreed to meet and assess my rudimentary skills. Surely I could squeeze in a game or two between chores, I thought. I’d burn a few calories and keep my hand-eye coordination honed. What harm could be done?
Broc assured me that my years of tennis training had prepared me to fit right into our community pickleball scene. “You’ll be mid-pack,” he observed, taking in my ferocious forehand drive coupled with my unfortunate resistance to “dinking,” the game’s tempo-changing, soft finesse shots at net. “Just show up Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday mornings for drop-in games. You’ll be fine,” he added, “but you’ll have to learn to dink.”
The next day I tunneled through garment boxes and stacks of books to meet the locals. Greeted warmly by a few dozen paddle-wielding, pickle-obsessed neighbors, I jumped into my first game. By the time it was my serve (0-0-2, whatever that meant), I felt blood coursing through my veins directly to the weapon in my hand.
“Thwack!” My serve landed deep in my opponent’s half of the court. He hit a short return. The ball bounced and I smashed a forehand at my new friend’s ample mid-section. “1-0-2!” my partner crowed, high-fiving me as we swaggered back to the baseline.
It’s now ten weeks post-move. My tennis racquets sit deep in the closet. Untouched. Dusty. Forlorn. The once-annoying pop of the pickleball has become a serenade, luring me five days a week to join my new bevy of besties. I even dink on occasion, although it goes against all my killer tennis instincts.
Will I ever return to my first love or has the passion dimmed forever? After all, nine million people can’t be wrong. Pickleball, America’s fastest-growing sport, has turned this naysayer into an absolute nutjob.
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