By Cathi Arora
March 17 was met with much anticipation. Not because the Irish in me loves St. Paddy’s Day. Not because the forecast called for 75 degrees and sunny. Not even because it was my daughter’s 10th birthday.
It was opening day for the 80,000 players of the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association, better known as ALTA. I am one of them.
And with a new outfit, new shoes, new racket, and a mild concussion from an overhead I took to the temple at practice earlier that week, I was ready to play — well sort of. My head still hurt, but nothing a few Advil couldn’t cure.
I’m a fairly typical Thursday Women’s ALTA player. I want to have fun, play hard, eat well, look good — and of course win a “bag tag,” the little round plastic prizes awarded ALTA division champs — or as I like to say, a “brag tag.”
And it’s not just a quest for a seasonal victory. It’s about the collection of bag tags. It’s the “clickety-clack” intimidation factor you get when someone walks on the court with a rainbow of plastic do-dads from victories of years past.
I know a woman who still carries bag tags she won in the 1980s. She hasn’t earned one in more than a decade, but by golly, she has the clickety-clack factor!
For those not familiar with bag tags, ALTA players live for them. Around since 1982, they were called “the most treasured symbol of success in league competition” by the late John Williams in his book “ALTA: Its History, Humor and Hors d’oeuvres.”
Speaking of food, the culinary spread on match day can be as competitive as the tennis.
I’ve even witnessed home team captains stress more about food assignments than lineups. This focus on food comes straight from the top. Not only does ALTA feature a Court Cuisine section in its magazine and links on its home page, but for those lucky and skilled enough to make the City Championships, there is a table display competition and award.
And let’s not forget about the clothes. I have yet to see anyone attempt a recent Venus Williams get up, but who hasn’t watched a professional tennis match with one eye on the ball, and one eye on World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki’s Stella McCartney for Adidas collection.
I’m a Nike girl myself and while picking up a few new pieces at the Sandy Springs Tennis Center, I spoke with Mark Kim from Serious Tennis, the company that runs the center’s pro shop.
“We see a huge spike in sales for the spring line,” Kim said. “Everyone wants a new outfit for ALTA.”
So, for the next seven weeks, my Thursdays are booked. Even my husband has learned that Thursday is my day off. No writing, no laundry, no errands, no dinner.
He also knows that he may be expected to drive carpool, feed the kids and help with homework because, depending on the circumstances — a tough loss, a great victory, even a hot day — beer may be involved. That’s not to say all players crack one open midday/midweek, but our tennis pro likes to call us a drinking team with a tennis problem.
Well, my first match didn’t go as planned. We got beat.
It would be good sportsmanship to concede that my opponents played better, but where’s the fun in that? ALTA players have made an art of creating excuses. Here are just a few of mine… my new shoes hurt, it was too warm and sunny, I couldn’t get the feel of the new strings, I played tentatively, balls kept rolling into our court, I had a headache, etc, etc, etc.
Truth be told, we played a pair of really nice ladies from The Branches. I knew one from somewhere, but couldn’t place her at first. I just assumed we played each other in the past. Later we figured it out. She was my daughter’s soccer coach a few years ago.
Cathi Arora lives in Sandy Springs. She has played ALTA tennis for six years and is currently ranked an ALTA B-3 level player.