For proof that tennis is a game of “love,” look no further than Kathy Berthelette, who met her husband, Dan Bradley, when she picked up the game in 1986. Their first date was buying her a decent racket. Now Berthelette is president of the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association, the self-proclaimed “largest local tennis league in the country.” Originally formed eighty years ago to promote the sport in Atlanta, ALTA opened to league play in 1971. Today it has 65,000 members.
In Atlanta, tennis is a bustling and competitive year-round scene that also offers play through half a dozen organizations, not to mention those free courts near your neighborhood. “Atlanta is the tennis capital of the world,” says Scott Laakso, tennis supervisor for the City of Roswell.
If you’re a novice, however, courting the sport in the tennis capital can be intimidating. So we’ve come up with the basics to get you started. Follow through, and maybe you’ll fall in love too.
Beginner Tennis FAQs
Q: Should I screech when I hit the ball, like the pros do?
A: Generally, no. Not unless you want to be known as “the Screecher.”
Q: Should I dress in official “tennis whites”?
A: It depends on the dress code where you’re playing. But on free courts, tennis is the people’s game. That means you can wear your Coors tank top, jorts, and black socks. (But we like the way you look in tennis whites, FYI.)
Q: What should I do if I suspect my opponent of deliberately calling fair balls “out”?
A: Be diplomatic. Only John McEnroe can get away with standing at the net and yelling, “You cannot be serious!”
Country club not required
Atlanta, the “city of a hundred hills,” is also the city with well over a thousand tennis facilities, by some estimates. Visit tennismaps.com and pull up Atlanta to search for facilities near you.
Note: Most public courts are free. At public tennis centers, expect to pay $2 to $5 to reserve court time.
The racket racket
There’s no need to invest in a $200 NASA-approved racket. But you should be choosy, says Laakso. “Get a racket that is right for you. If you buy one online or used and it’s not designed for your skill level, you’re going to find yourself discouraged.” Laakso advises testing a lot of rackets. Stores like Your Serve Tennis and Serious Tennis will let you try out a few at a time at your local court.
Tennis pro Ne’ko Browder says the construction of running shoes or cross trainers makes it hard for players to move on the court. “In fact, you can trip up much easier. Find some tennis-specific shoes that fit you and protect you from falling on your face.
A league of your own
First, determine your skill level. Hit with an instructor at a tennis center, and he or she can advise you on where your game fits best. One caveat: Jumping into an ALTA league is not just a matter of signing up. Many teams are filled long before seasons begin. “It’s kind of a closed society,” says Laakso. “But you probably know someone who knows someone. Ask around.”
The Big Leagues
Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA)
Doubles matches, many leagues to fit your schedule
$25 for an annual membership
United States Tennis Association
League play, singles and doubles, tournaments, official ranking system, and more
$44 for annual membership
“Flex tennis” league: Challenge someone, initial schedule for a time to play
$30-$35 to participate in a league
Another popular flex-schedule league
$30 for adult league; $24 for junior’s league.
Don’t have a tennis partner? Hit against a wall. The simple exercise is invaluable. “Tennis is a game of sending and receiving,” says Ne’ko Browder, a tennis pro at Emory and Piedmont Park. “Sometimes people think too much on the tennis court.”
Call tennis centers to arrange private or group lessons, or take a clinic. Public clinics cost only $15 to $20.
Use Penn tennis balls. Use them until they are only appropriate for a dog’s mouth.
Epicenters of Tennis
We can’t name every major tennis facility in Atlanta, but you can’t go wrong with a visit to these:
Bitsy Grant Tennis Center
Blackburn Tennis Center
Beginners’ lessons: $90 for five one-hour classes
Sharon E. Lester Tennis Center (Piedmont Park)
Chastain Park Tennis Center
“Adult Academy”: $25 for 90 minutes
Sandy Springs Tennis Center
Roswell Area Park
Laurel Park Tennis Center
Sugar Creek Golf & Tennis
Peachtree City Tennis Center
This story originally appeared in our April 2014 issue under the headline “You got served.”