My first ALTA match was an eye-opener. I received an email regarding the line up and who I'd be partnering with in doubles. New to the team, I didn't have a regular partner so I got paired with Monica who I knew slightly better than the rest of the team but really not at all.
We were the visiting team and I learned that it is customary that the home team provides refreshments for the event just as you would when welcoming someone into your actual home. This was a new concept to me all together. I imagined we'd all bring our own variety of snacks and drinks for extra nutrition and energy on the court and maybe the home team would be kind enough to offer us water. But I wasn't really expecting anything in this regard. Playing tennis was what I thought we'd be doing. Play. Win. Go home.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I arrived at the courts and found a feast, no, a banquet of epicurean treats! Chips and dips, breads and spreads, salads, "tennis-cut" sandwiches (request this from any Atlanta Publix deli server and, no questions asked, your sub sandwich will be cut into six equal parts for delicate lady-like eating), crudites, soup (in a crock pot), fruits and cakes, cookies and cocktails for God's sake! All presented on a table-clothed, seasonally dressed table. This is ALTA tennis hospitality at it's finest. But apparently, this is not exclusively ALTA behavior. This type of conduct seems to have seeped into USTA matches played in this area as well. From what I've been told, this is a pretty unique tradition to this neck of the woods.
One season, a teammate who'd recently moved from New York and new to tennis match hospitality, tried to change it up a bit. She was playing line one doubles and would be at the courts early in the morning so she thought, I'll stop by Atlanta Bread Company and buy bagels since it's early and closer to breakfast than lunch? Bless her heart, that poor thing had no idea the reaction her thoughtful contribution would receive.
"Onion?! Who brought onion bagels? And what kind are these?"
"Garlic. They're garlic bagels and those are salt. I'm so sorry."
“Bless your heart!” which means exactly the opposite of the sentiment appears to suggest, she dismissed her shock and horror as just friendly questioning posed to tease the new kid on the block. But our resident New Yorker got the message loud and clear:
Typical bagel flavors accepted at most morning gatherings in Atlanta are of the dessert pursuasion - cinnamon/raisin, apple spice, (the dreaded) blueberry, etc. Any of the seeded variety, like sesame and poppy, might find a place on the table early in the day as well. The plain bagel, however, is your best bet every time. But anything that may affect the potency of one's breath at the start of the day and threaten to mar it with halitosis for the balance of the waking hours is forever banned.
The lengths at which some ladies decorate the table is equally impressive to me. You can spot the lady who was once the novice homeroom mom for her childrens' school holiday parties. She was the one who would spend hours extruding creativity from every online crafts website available to host the best 90 minute holiday party ever conceived for 2nd graders. This newbie homeroom mom showed up one year during our spring season when she was assigned fruit to bring to the match. A dozen bananas cut in half, peeling and all, leaving 24 four inch sections. She plated them cut-side down with decoration of plastic Easter basket grass. To the side, a hand-written label lovingly designating the dish as "Monkey Grass". But somewhere between child #2 and #3 she was finally able to settle into her own style, adding a layer of sophistication and elegance more suitable for the grown-up tennis refreshments table.
It is at the USTA City Finals where you are given license to display the overflowing fountain of creativity you'd been holding back all season. Because city finals is not just a display of dominance on the tennis courts. No...it is also a cut-throat team table decor competition that offers an award which any USTA-loving competitor would gladly add to their list of tennis accomplishments. It's like winning the school spirit award. It designates you as a worthy competitor because you would not be at city finals had you not dominated your field but it also honors the fact that there are talents far beyond the tennis court which we all possess. Talents which are worthy of nurturing, honing, supporting and, yes, validating.
OK. I'm not sure I totally buy that last thought either. But here's one I'm sure we can all agree on: Whenever you get a bunch of ambitious women together for anything which offers an opportunity to win and claim a championship trophy and recognition, then EVERYTHING around them turns into a competition.
And I mean everything.
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