The Tennis Mixer
Growing up, tennis was my sport. It was the reason to stay fit and the reason to practice healthy habits. But I grew up in the 70's so replenishing my fluids at the end of a 3-hour lesson with an orange Fanta was not uncommon. And the celebratory all-you-can-eat pizza dinner at Snoopy's whether I won my match or not was expected. And when I found out that a pair of Nike's wouldn't help me run faster or longer, I decided that jogging was for losers. Besides, just standing outside in the Virginia summer sun, for 30 minutes felt as though I'd sat through the pre-heating session of a 400-degree oven and I'd be dripping in sweat. I thought that meant I was working out. And I did it all for tennis.
Fast-forward 30 years later, I was in better shape and understood the meaning of exercise and nutrition so much better. I was also married and had 2 kids who I chased after every day between the hours of 6 am and 10 pm except for the few hours during the day when their school offered me a quiet respite to get a few things done like laundry, dishes, making the beds, cleaning the bathrooms and walking the dogs. But I was happy. My friend-group turned out to be just as my mom had described to me years ago. The parents of my kids' friends became some of my closest friends. We seemed to have so much in common that our relationships went past the homeroom walls and spilled into restaurants, our homes, and even some girls' trips scattered throughout the year. We had fun together and shared each of our families' stories which were always told better with a cocktail in hand.
Then, one day, a friend put a tennis racquet back in my hand. It had been 3 decades since I'd actually swung at anything besides the fruit flies attracted to my gin & tonic. But I
was hooked immediately. I signed up for lessons, joined an ALTA (Atlanta Lawn And Tennis Association) team, and felt excited about competing again. It was one day at tennis practice that I realized that my so-called "healthy habits" that I'd been practicing with my girlfriends after every home & school meeting needed altering once again.
"Belinda, keep your racquet up! Belinda, move your feet! Belinda, split-step!" My coach was frustrated with me. "What the heck is wrong with you?"
After a night out with my friends, I had to confess. "I'm hung-over." I knew it was a pathetic response but honest nonetheless. To which she replied gleefully and with a wink, "Oh yeah, girl! Got your drink on last night!"
"Oh my gosh! Were you on Canton Street last night?" T chirped from the baseline. "We were at Ipp's drinking their Frozés (frozen rosé). Ooo, they're so good but they'll get ya!" And then began a 10-minute court-side intermission to hear what others had imbibed the night before our tennis practice.
And that was the day I realized that ladies' adult league tennis was a completely different sport! These women are truly indestructible. Many of the ladies I play with also hold down a part-time job and maintain their busy family schedules take care of the pets, volunteer at school and church, and still make it to tennis practice each week. A handful of cocktails the night before tennis practice didn't seem to phase them in the least.
It was shortly after that when I learned that alcohol frequently played a starring role in ladies' tennis matches. You shouldn't be surprised, especially at the country clubs, to see champagne bottles, coolers of beer, and ingredients for the cocktail-of-the-day show up on the refreshments table. It doesn't even have to be anyone's birthday or a celebration of any sort for that matter. Tennis is not only for fitness and competition, it is, for many, a social hour.
I recall playing at one of the country clubs where my team was the visiting team. I knew my friend L was a member of the club and found out from the line-up sheet that we'd be playing her team. L has a very large personality so I assumed I'd either see or hear her as I approached the courts. Instead, she was nowhere to be found. I asked one of the ladies on her team if L was going to be playing so she reviewed the score sheet and assured me that L was playing line 2 and should be arriving shortly. She didn't tell me, however, that L would be arriving escorted by one of the club attendants. I heard her laughing from 200 yards away. When I saw her, she was on the passenger side of the golf cart trying hard not to spill the pitcher of Bloody Mary's while the bartender swerved his way through the parking lot.
"Hey! There you are!" She yelled out to me. "This is for all of us to share," as she lifted the pitcher, "But we can order more. Or they'll get you whatever you want from the bar!"
Did I mention that it was a Thursday morning and tennis matches around here start at 9 am?
As social as we ladies are, there is, however, another instance when spiritous beverages prove to be appropriate - anytime a clutch match is on the line and jitters need to be kept in check. I know, I know, it's just ladies' recreational tennis and we are supposed to be out there JUST having fun. But, I'm here to tell you that when we take to the courts an inner-warrior comes out. These ladies are fierce and consumed with an "all or nothing" attitude. At the really important events, the air is filled with a dense competitiveness that you could cut with a pairing knife, squeeze over a glass of ice, and douse it in vodka. We'd throw that baby down, wipe our mouths with the back of our hands, and toss the emptied glass aside just like we would eliminate every opponent. The same goes for even the ladies at the country clubs, with their Screwdriver and Prosecco hydration - no one wants to lose, we all want to win! So we'll do whatever we've got to do to finish our opponents. The first time I witnessed this remedy for anxiety was a couple of years ago at a playoff match when my teammate, G, told me that she needed to drink her beers before her opponent arrived. G plays singles which I played back in the day so I understand the level of stress and responsibility she felt to win her match. The win or loss is all on you. I told her to go for it! Hell, I'd be her personal barmaid if she asked because, in the end, all the wins matter!
I've witnessed the Fireball shots before a city semi-finals match, the 6-pack of the local IPA consumed during a match, and the vodka-sodas disguised as electrolyte fluid in a water-bottles. We all react as if it's a crazy idea to partake in an alcoholic beverage on the court but it's become so commonplace that I questioned an opponent who was drinking from a can I did not recognize. I thought it was probably a new-fangled hard-seltzer. "What are you drinking?" I asked.
"Celsius." She responded.
"Ah!" I offered with a knowing nod and a smirky smile. Kinda like a Truly?"
"It's not alcohol," she said condescendingly. "It's an energy drink that helps increase metabolism."
I felt so dumb assuming she was having a cocktail. Then my next thought was, "I wonder if that would make a good mixer."