Personal Musings

Game. Set. Match

How a Tennis Match Between Two Newlywed Couples Destroyed Any Chance at Friendship

When my wife and I were newlyweds, we met another newlywed couple a few apartments down from ours. They married a month after us. When they moved in, my wife took it upon herself to formulate a well-devised plan to strike up a friendship.

“Let’s make new friends,” she said. “They look about our age. Maybe a couple years younger. They just got married. We’re all at a similar stage in our lives.”

I’ve found making friends as an adult a near impossible task. It’s like going to the grocery store and finding the right shopping cart — one that doesn’t have a wobbly, squeaky wheel. Everything about it is awkward, including the most basic of introductions: your name. When you’re a kid, you have it easy. As a parent, I envy my son’s ability to strike up a friendship out of thin air. He sees a kid roughly his age and walks up and says, “Hi, my name is Henry. Do you want to be friends?”

Then he plays toy trucks with the other kid or pretends to be Batman and the other kid Robin and they save Gotham from the villainous Joker and his henchmen. You can’t do that with another adult when you’re an adult. I mean, you can.

But, awkward.

Luckily, my wife is better than I am at the Make Friends in Adulthood game. Finding a common interest is her angle, which is exactly what my wife decided to do one fateful day fifteen years ago.

As my wife peeked at the other couple through our mini blinds in the living room, an opportunity presented itself.

Allison: They have tennis rackets. They’re going to play tennis.

Me: Okay.

Allison: I like tennis.

My wife did enjoy a good tennis game. She was on the high school tennis team. I played a year myself, but I was also in a rock band with my friends and rock ‘n roll and sin were calling my name so I was one-and-done on the tennis circuit in my youth.

Despite her love for tennis, the two of us had never played a friendly against one another. Probably for the better, I’d learn.

Me: So, are you planning to go to the court now?

Allison: No, we are, as in you and me.

Me: Right now?

Allison: No. I have a plan. When I see them walking back, I’m going to casually walk outside, introduce myself, and ask if they want to play doubles with us. I’ll tell them we just moved in, too, that we got married last month.

About an hour later, as the couple was walking back to their apartment, my wife (casually) bolts out of our back door to meet them as if their paths crossing was a complete coincidence and not a well-executed plan.

“We’re going to play Thursday night,” she said. “Their names are Cole and Jamie.”

“I don’t even think I have a racket anymore,” I said.

“I have two. You can use one of mine.”

I should have known then this wasn’t going to go as planned. But then my wife sat me down for a conversation. The topic: my competitiveness.

Allison: I know you’re competitive and you don’t like to lose but take it easy out there Thursday when we play them.

Me: I haven’t touched a tennis racket in ten years. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

Allison: You don’t like to lose.

Me: I’m not a bad sport though. I’m not going to go out there and turn into John McEnroe all of a sudden.

Allison: Promise?

Me: I promise. For all we know, they are amazing tennis players and might crush us.

Allison: You’re probably right.

The following Thursday we met Cole and Jamie at the tennis courts for our scheduled night game. Moths circled the overhead lights above. A gentle breeze was in the air. The conditions couldn’t have been more ideal.

Prior to leaving our apartment, my wife rewrapped the handle of her tennis racket. She patted the strings against her palm. She cracked open a sealed tube of new Wilson tennis balls.

“Don’t you love the smell?” she said.

After volleying for a few minutes to get our blood pumping, my wife walks by me and says, “Remember: take it easy. We’re trying to make new friends, not win Wimbledon.”

Which is exactly what I did.

When I served, I took off any heat that may have been simmering on the back burner. When I returned, I hit it straight to them as if we were still volleying. I didn’t put any spin on my forehand. A spin that used to irritate the daylights out of my older sister Jennifer, who was also on the tennis team with Allison in high school.

It’d been a while since I last played tennis but it was like riding a bike again.

My wife, on the other hand, turned into Steffi Graf.

Forehand, backhand, net action, serve — she was everywhere at once crushing the ball.

In They Live, a 1988 science fiction film directed by John Carpenter, the world has been secretly overrun by aliens intent on pillaging our natural resources to speed up climate change. The planet must be made a hospitable temperature for the arrival of their full alien race.

Wrestling superstar Rowdy Roddy Piper plays a drifter known as Nada. Wearing a pair of special sunglasses which allows him to see the aliens among us, Nada walks into a bank with shotgun in hand and says a line that would cement its legacy in pop culture:

I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum.

They Live

As Jamie prepared her serve, I looked over my right shoulder at Allison on the back line. She bounced left and right on the balls of her feet at the ready. She twirled the tennis racket between her hands. Was she chewing the inside of her own cheek like a gerbil presented a paper towel roll in its habitat? She was. It was something I’d never seen her do until then but have since come to learn this is a habit she employs when she is focused and determined.

My eyes made direct contact with her and that’s when I saw it: the possessed look in her eyes which said it all.

She was all out of bubble gum.

The first game was no contest: four straight points for us. Zero for Jamie and Cole.

“I’ll serve first,” Allison said before the second game was underway. “Love-Love.”

It’s worth interjecting here my wife’s every day demeanor. Trained as a school counselor and certified in mindfulness-based therapy, Allison has a gentle temperament and is about as even-keeled as they come. There is a steady hum to her presence like that of the American Buddhist teacher Gil Fronsdal. You just feel calm around her.

But that was nowhere to be found in the moment. That version of her had been whisked away by the ghosts of Wimbledon’s past. Frothing at the mouth and summoning her inner Andy Roddick, she hit a line drive into the opposing square.

“15-Love,” she said lobbing the once fresh Wilson tennis ball into the air and serving.


“Jeez Louise, Allison,” I said to her as Cole retrieved an ace from the back fence. “Take it easy.”

“Watch the line,” she barked back at me. “They aren’t going center. Protect the line. Protect the line!”

“They aren’t even touching the ball,” I said to her.


Our opponents weren’t the amazing tennis players I once posited they might be. When they did manage to graze the Wilson with their rackets, they weren’t outright bad, however. But they were clearly outgunned.

Any time they returned it to my wife’s vicinity, she wizzed the ball right by them for a point. All I could think of in the moment was the popular catch-phrase heard across the nation on ESPN’s SportsCenter: frozen pizza! Frozen pizza was another way of describing a ball zipping so fast by an opponent it didn’t even have time to be cooked. You were the one being cooked.

One after the next:

Frozen pizza!
Frozen pizza!
Frozen pizza!

Remorse is defined as a deep regret or guilt for a wrong committed. Can you feel remorse when you play tennis? Because I felt remorse that night on the court. We’d agreed to a short match: two sets to 6 straight up. And my loving wife — that gentle creature I thought I knew so well — had her finger pressed on the nuclear option the entire night.

“That’s game,” my wife said.

About thirty minutes later:


Another thirty minutes:


We met at center court and shook hands — our once potential friendship fading into the ether with the release of our grips.

“We should do this again,” Allison said.

As we bid the other newlywed couple goodnight and made our way into our apartment, my wife said, “Well, that was fun.”

“I thought you told me to take it easy,” I said.

“I did.”

“You realize they didn’t win a single game, right? They looked like they’d both been fired from their job and evicted from their house on the same day.”

“I got in the zone,” Allison said. “You know how it is. You love basketball. I love tennis. It was one match. I’m sure they’d play again if we asked. Maybe it could be our Thursday thing.”

We never played a single game of tennis against the other couple again. We have never played a single game of tennis against anyone since.

Because what I learned about my wife that night fifteen years ago, was when it came to tennis, she turned into a veritable Michael Jordan in Game 6 of the NBA Finals with 5.2 seconds left. She was a straight assassin. A cut-throat destroyer of worlds between painted lines.

“Maybe we should try bowling,” I said. “You’re not passionate about bowling, are you? Or a book club? Books could be good.”

Thanks for reading. I write personal essays about every day life with a touch of humor and nostalgia. Subscribe to get updates of new posts by email:

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