The Main Line Tennis Nazis

You think it's just a game? Not for the hyper-competitive stay-at-home moms in my neighborhood

I’m not really a big sports person, which I realize is kind of un-Philadelphian of me. I don’t really watch sports on television (World Series or Olympics notwithstanding). The suburb where I grew up in Canada had exactly one racquet club where the only people we knew who belonged were our doctors and dentists. I’m not even sure if our town had other tennis courts. Nobody I knew played tennis. Then I moved to the Main Line.

It began as soon as I moved in. I’m not even sure if I’d actually set my luggage down in our new house when one of my neighbors implored me to join her tennis group. Not invited, implored—I swear it felt like a directive. I resisted. I gave all my reasons. I’m busy settling in. I’m not terribly coordinated. I played once on vacation and was so hopeless the employees in the tennis shop came out with lawn chairs to enjoy the show. (Seriously, they were doubled over laughing.) My best reason? I have no desire whatsoever to play tennis. But she kept the pressure on and eventually wore me down. Lo and behold, one day I found myself on a tennis court—skirt and all.

I did manage to learn the basics after a year of amusing the pro and the others in the beginners’ group with my lack of natural ability. I even enjoyed it a little. It was a nice social group, and we had some fun. Until the group changed up and some of the new people began behaving as though I was holding them back from their destiny with Wimbledon. I had no idea at the time that these women represented a larger contingent of what I now refer to as the Main Line Tennis Nazis. I quit my beginners’ group shortly after one member suggested that if “I don’t know the rules of scoring, I don’t belong there.” Ironic since I was coordinating the group at the time. I happily passed the torch and am still waiting to see one of them on the cover of Sports Illustrated, racquet in hand.[SIGNUP]

Most of my friends here play tennis. Some are hackers like me but most are deadly serious. One friend recently emailed that she couldn’t make a committee meeting because she had a tennis match that “actually counts and isn’t just for fun.” I think I can say with certainty that this woman isn’t heading to the pros at this point in her life. How did our hobbies get to this point? When it isn’t just for fun we may have a problem. Perhaps our pastimes have gotten a little too serious.

The best story I’ve heard was about a couple taking a cardio tennis lesson. The husband took a fall mid lesson and needed an ambulance and stretcher to carry him out. His wife suggested she would meet him at the hospital—when the lesson was over. The pro had to tell her that when someone is carried out by EMTs, the lesson is over! The poor man broke his hip, by the way.

I have to wonder if maybe these women are transferring the success from their earlier lives onto tennis. This type tends to be the highly educated, formerly successful career woman who’s now a stay-at-home mother. Perhaps they’re channeling all their energy (and frustrations) onto their tennis game. I’ve never been a particularly competitive person, so this whole subculture of killer competition before morning coffee confounds me a little.

I’ve also been pondering if this is a zip code thing. Is this breed of the tennis-obsessed housewife restricted to the Main Line? The friend who had to play “not for fun” won that match by default. It seems the other team didn’t show up because someone’s child was sick. I immediately suspected they couldn’t be from around here, and I was right. I imagine the MLTNs would load that ailing kid up and lay him out near the court before they’d miss a match that “actually counts.”

I have a new neighbor who just moved here from another state. We had coffee recently, and she told me that she’s just taken up tennis. She’d never played before, but she said as soon as she moved in she was pressured by several people to join a tennis group. I didn’t want to burst her bubble or scare her, so I just smiled and told her to enjoy herself.