Many people discount tennis and think it’s for snobby rich guys in short pants who have a court in their backyards and want to hit around for a while before teatime. Well I’m here to tell you that regular guys in cargo shorts with tattoos and black t-shirts who can barely afford a one-bedroom apartment might love the game too.
My dear dad taught me tennis when I was but a wee lad, barely able to hold the racquet and run around without tripping over my own two feet. I played in the competitive city leagues when I was growing up, and I was the only sophomore to make the tennis team at my high school, and that seemed like a big deal at the time. I played the game and loved it, and wasn’t really pressured to do it by dad, even though he got me started playing and stoked my appreciation for the classic champions of yesteryear. I went to tennis camp a few times and had some lessons too.
The problem was heavy metal. How could heavy metal be a problem, you might ask? It’s such a universal source of pleasure, you might think? And what the hell does it have to do with tennis, you might ask? Well I had a scheduling problem. I was a metal head, a skate boarder and a tennis player, as it turned out.
I didn’t mind that I was the only tennis player with a dumb haircut, baggy skater clothes, and a hat with Soundgarden and Metallica patches on it. I was good enough. I didn’t want to wear those goofy little white short-shorts or visors or matching polo shirts or cardigans or any of that crap. For me there would be no K Swiss. If I could compete in my old Airwalks and argyle socks, I would.
The problem was scheduling. My life had recently changed; I was in a band. My buddies and I had started playing heavy metal (or our closest approximation of it) after school in one guy’s spare bedroom, before his mom came home from work. I played bass and wrote lyrics for songs like “Madness Throne,” (yes, we listened to Alice In Chains’ “Angry Chair”—I guess it rubbed off). Our singer was so bad that we couldn’t even stand to be in the same room with him, so we gave him a wireless microphone. He sat in the next bedroom and screamed and growled from behind two closed doors.
I had my first chance to rock; I had had a taste, and something stuck. I had a decision to make, as tennis practice was every day after school until five PM, precisely the only time available for my band, known as Hard To Figure (worst band name ever?), to practice. Rock beat tennis, and I threw away my hopes and dreams of tennis success for an endless series of shitty bands nobody has ever heard of.
Anyway, I quit the high school tennis team and rocked out. Fast-forward 16 years or so, and we arrive at my decision to break back into the world of competitive tennis! Ha! Not really. Well, sort of.
Indulge me for one more drop back into the past to briefly mention my first semester of college: I always thought I’d walk on to my college tennis team, despite spending years away from serious play. I still loved the game and still thought of myself as a pretty good player. Then I showed up to watch one of my university team’s practices and realized immediately that my game was crap, and that I’d never make the team. I still had a few freshman phys-ed requirements to take care of, so I took intermediate and advanced tennis classes, and scuba diving.
Off and on, from finishing undergrad in 2000 until today, I had occasionally sought out some sort of competitive tennis in my area. Accustomed to my city leagues back in my hometown, I assumed that a town with such a phenomenal collegiate team would naturally have a great city tennis program as well. Well, maybe it does, but you might have to be a senior citizen and into mixed doubles.
All I wanted was to be involved in regular, somewhat evenly matched, somewhat competitive singles matches with guys around my same level of play, so that I wouldn’t be slammed into oblivion by world class players like the guys on the local college team, but I wouldn’t be chasing homerun moonballs hit over the fence by rookies either. I didn’t expect to win tournaments or anything remotely like it. I just wanted to get some regular, strenuous exercise, work on improving my game and have a good time.
The first thing I did was call the tennis coach at school who also had presided over the two tennis courses I had taken. He suggested that I call a local United States Tennis Association (USTA) representative who was supposedly organizing local tennis.
I called this lady and was told that nobody really had anything organized at all, but that I was welcome to pay $40 for the privilege of showing up on Saturday mornings to play anyone who showed up on free public courts to convene with a wide assortment of local tennis enthusiasts, men and women ranging from children to retirees who would pair off for random singles and doubles play that couldn’t be more unpredictable.
What was my $40 for, again? This was all my town had to offer its tennis-playing citizens?
I stopped searching for my local tennis nirvana after this, and I probably picked up a racket once or twice a year when visiting my dad or hitting with a friend on rare occasions. A few years had gone by when suddenly I spotted a bumper sticker advertising a local tennis organization.
Surprised and intrigued, I located the group online and couldn’t seem to load the website. What came up was a jumbled mess of HTML and lines of text that overlapped, rendering much of it unreadable. I switched to another browser in the hopes of better luck but had none.
Sifting through the tangled layers of code and text, I located an email address for a secretary of the group who was listed as a contact for more information. I sent an email inquiring about local men’s singles leagues and got no reply whatsoever. Perhaps the secretary was busy hiring a web designer.
Weeks later I went back to the site in search of another contact and found one listed for “men’s singles play.” Perfect. How could I have missed this guy in the first place? Surely he would know how I could get in on some well-organized tennis. I emailed him a similar inquiry and again received no reply whatsoever.
Again, weeks went by, and I was irritated. I went back to the site again and this time found the email listing for the President of the association. I emailed her and for a third time, requested information. She got back to me pronto and apologized for the men’s singles contact who was “not really working” and the membership contact/secretary who she described as “a bit distracted.”
She too encouraged me spiritedly to sign up for the old “whoever shows up, plays” on Saturdays, the $40 group. I declined. She allowed me to convince her that I was good enough for her to sign me up for a list of players who were organizing a men’s league. Things worked out pretty well. I played two months of tennis on a team with 10 guys and really enjoyed it, even though I had to play doubles, a different game entirely.
At least now I had some local tennis buddies and some recent competitive experience under my belt, but I didn’t want to pay membership dues to be on a team that would require me to play doubles and give up all my Saturdays.
I just wanted the flexibility of being able to organize one singles match per week with just one other guy at our mutual convenience, instead of trying to get a schedule together that 20 people had to agree on every time we played. The USTA calls this approach a "flex" league.
I decided that I had to just put together my own group of guys, and if I could be sanctioned by the USTA as well, then great. Why not?
I emailed the USTA directly about how to officially set up my league and was ignored. I emailed the Southern division of the USTA as well, and they ignored me too. Both divisions ignored me, despite my recent $40 membership fee and $20 league fee.
I emailed the president of the local tennis group again. This time, she too ignored me. A month later I emailed her again. She still didn’t respond. What is with these people, I thought?
After emailing around to several guys who were interested in the new men’s singles league, I heard of someone I should talk to—another older lady who seemed a bit scattered but friendly and was supposedly in charge of setting up leagues locally. She too tried to convince me to try the random Saturday get-together group. She also told me that the local tennis organization had “voted not to participate in flexible men’s singles leagues."
When I declined to commit to a $40 fee for the privilege of playing anyone who showed up on the free public courts on Saturdays and delicately made it clear that I didn’t care if the local tennis group had decided to paint themselves like the Blue Man Group and cover Dolly Parton songs—I was starting a men’s singles flex league—she revealed that, actually, she was only in charge of the senior citizen and mixed doubles groups.
She talked over me enough that I could barely get my point across, but I was patient and polite, and eventually I did. She said I had to talk to yet another lady who was the league coordinator for the entire region. She offered to contact this lady for me, if only I would email her. I promised to email her immediately and did so. She didn’t respond for several days.
Then I got a call from her, asking if I would please get in contact with her. I told her that I had already sent her an email immediately following our first conversation. It turns out she had given me the wrong email address.
I sent the email again. She then emailed the regional league coordinator and copied me on the email, requesting more information on my behalf. She also copied the president of the local tennis group who contacted me right away, apologizing for ignoring my past two emails for the past two months, saying that she sometimes “let people slip through the cracks.”
I wondered who elected her president. Had the men’s singles coordinator, the secretary and the web designer voted for her? What the hell does a guy have to do in the town to start a lousy damn tennis league for men's singles on a flexible schedule? Whose permission did I really need, anyway?
The mysterious lady that was ultimately contacted—the one who supposedly holds the Golden Tennis Balls of Authority to officially sanction our league—has neither responded to the email sent to her from the previous lady, nor to the follow-up email that I sent to her.
Some details about other failed contacts and communication efforts aside, after trying to contact everyone I could possibly think of to officially sanction our league, people at the USTA, the USTA Southern, the local tennis association, various state and local league coordinators, online tennis organizers and elsewhere, I got nowhere.
I am moving on, setting up my own league, with the help of a tennis buddy I met on the team I played with recently, and we don’t need the USTA or anybody else to tell us how to set up a lousy tennis league.
Punk rock tennis, heavy metal tennis, DIY tennis, whatever you want to call it. It’s five bucks each, and we will set it up however the hell we want.