How The Pandemic and Pickleball Made Tennis People Even Bigger Assholes

Daniil Medvedev started politicking with the crowd on behalf of his US Open Final bid shortly after he won his semi-final match. Former eleventh ranked player Victor Troicki had already been called a “fucking clown” and told to “Go back to Serbia” by a fan during a qualifying match, and German Alexander Zverev had a fan thrown out of a qualifying match for making a reference to Hitler, so Medvedev knew he had to tread lightly, particularly as a Belarusian. He showed tact by lying to the sideline reporter that the crowd, which had been jeering him all tournament, was “unbelievable” that night, further alleging that they had been “Good on both sides”. His peacekeeping was short lived however, as Medvedev quickly admitted, “The only thing is probably 1,000 Spanish guys at 5-3 started screaming between the first and second serves. That’s not so nice. But I guess they were desperate. I’m happy it didn’t help and they can go to sleep now.” Over the course of the US Open it felt like every day a match had some weird moment with a fan overextending themselves. I will not go after the climate protestors who interrupted her match, but I will bemoan the fact that even as CoCo Gauff was celebrating her first major tournament victory with her family, security had to keep back fans from running up and attempting to ruin their moment. Tickets for the US Open were the most expensive they’ve ever been, so those were mostly rich assholes ruining these matches, but the non-stop debauchery at the tournament seemed consistent with a trend I’ve observed since post-pandemic life began: why have tennis people become so much more annoying the past couple of years?

There was a major upswing in tennis playing in NYC with the pandemic as it was one of the very few activities that people were allowed to do together, as I am sure we all remember. That same time period saw pickleball, a tennis offshoot with a plastic hole-covered ball instead of tennis’ traditional yellow fuzz covered rubber, become the fastest growing sport in America on the backs of senior citizens who liked tennis but didn’t love all that running. I grew up playing tennis in the summers and paddle tennis in the winter, so I saw pickleball as another fun racquet-sport alternative that might make sense for older people, the hungover, or anyone who doesn’t want to run around as much as you have to when playing tennis. The NYC tennis community writ-large did not see pickleball the same however, and a hatred of pickleball has seemingly become a core tenant of tennis fandom in the time since. If you try to tell a tennis person that you kinda like pickleball and have even had fun playing it a few times, they will treat that as a genuine moral failing, as they see the rise of pickleball as a surefire sign of the decline of western civilization. “Pickleball people are so annoying, they think it’s a real sport!” they will insist, “They tried to steal our courts (citation needed) and when they couldn’t, their courts showed up everywhere overnight and now it’s inescapable. AND THE BALL IS SO LOUD!” Yes, the bounce of a pickleball is definitely louder than that of a tennis ball, as was scientifically proven in Denver, but is the game of pickleball really louder than tennis? C’mon. You can hear people shuffling around a tennis court from a block away and can hear a grunter from a neighborhood away. There is no way I’ll entertain that one racquet sport is really that much louder than the other. As for the extra space pickleball is “taking away from other people” well I have never heard an argument why pickleball players are less entitled to that public space than anyone else. “Can you believe they have the audacity to play pickleball in the park?” to me reads like “Can you believe Pee Wee Herman jacked off at the porno theater?” What really seems to piss people off the most is how much fun these people are having, how they aren’t embarrassed about it, and how they’re doing it in public. Seravalli Park in the West Village became the epicenter of this debate last year when pickleball was banned from the park, and as expected the Post article about the incident is absolutely hilarious. In the piece parents both brag about telling their kids to try and mess up the pickleball games and then accuse the pickleball players of “bullying their children” when they tell the kids to watch where they’re going, and oh-so-surprisingly zero pickleball-supporting people were interviewed for the piece. For starters, if you are raising your kids in an apartment where their go-to childhood park is Seravalli, you are definitely an asshole. The West Village is just not a place where sensible and level headed people raise their children in 2023. As for the debate over the use of the space, did they have too many courts at Seravalli Park? Probably! Did the new demand for pickleball courts require an organized system from the city that was not in place yet? Obviously! But painting these people like an invasive species going out of their way to hurt children is just so over the top. Tennis heads love policing where and when people can play pickleball in a way that reminds me of how cops treated skateboarders in the 90s. Sorry you don’t like how they exercise but they are unfortunately hurting absolutely no one. 

At the end of the day, what pickleball gave tennis people was a caste to feel “cooler” than. Tennis is a lifestyle as much as it is a sport, the athletic activity of the aspiring country club goer who is a little too class conscious to make golf their personality but still wants to get in on the cute outfits and patina of wealth that the two main country club sports carry. In that regard, they almost seem to see pickleball’s vague association with tennis as a form of stolen valor. “Pickleball people get to wear polo shirts and pleated skirts and carry a racquet bag around too?? But they won’t be running around the court nearly as much as us tennis people will!” Oh the horror. All the pretensions of classiness that tennis has are made even funnier by the complaints of blackout drunk fans overrunning the US Open, with one person hilariously describing it as “Happy Gilmore with tennis”. Between the frequent fan outbursts at players, the egregious ticket prices, and the booze bags, the US Open has become a shockingly undignified scene in the past few years, a far cry from how it felt even a half decade ago. It might be time for tennis fans to look inward and try and fix the problems with their own community before acting high and mighty about the other racquet sports.

Tennis people also love to let you know that Pickleball is a children’s game and “not a real sport” seeming particularly annoyed that anyone might take pickleball seriously. They groan endlessly about the professional league that lots of celebrities are investing in. Though it is always v funny when a tweet asking how anyone could possibly watch professional pickleball gets 10,000,000+ views (nobody is better at promoting pickleball than its haters), obviously nobody is ever actually going to watch professional pickleball in any capacity. However, I also don’t know anyone who plays pickleball who actually takes it at all seriously! Believe it or not, they all know it is just a fun game too. They’ll get competitive, but nobody on earth will make the argument that pickleball is better exercise or more fun to watch than tennis, and yet the tennis people in my life make it out like that is an argument they have to deal with on a daily basis. It is literally to the point where tennis people seem to talk about pickleball more than they talk about tennis! They certainly talk about it more than pickleball people do, who generally hide their paddles in shame for fear of an outburst from someone who was served one too many honey deuces. Pickleball people know the stigma and have heard all the jokes making fun of them and choose to play anyway, so who is the real asshole here?

I want to end this piece saying that I am in fact a tennis fan and a regular tennis player (I’m playing with my lil bro next week in fact), but we really need to lighten up and do away with the elitism that permeates the sport. The US Open was an embarrassment and will hopefully be a wakeup call for tennis fans that they need to clean up their own act before critiquing anyone else’s. Besides, a pickleball player today could be a tennis player tomorrow, that is right until you tell them he’s a loser for picking up the wrong racquet. Most importantly however, if you take anything away from this article please let it be this, just because you play tennis doesn’t make you an athlete! You are not more of an athlete than someone playing pickleball even if you are getting a better workout! You’re only a real athlete if you play in college or professionally, the rest of us are just getting some exercise regardless of the game we play. 

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