I love playing doubles league tennis. But once, I had an opponent who was expecting, and I hated it.
It happened about 4 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a gorgeous morning for tennis, and our team’s lines 1 and 4 started early. My dubs partner and I pulled up to the courts and parked, and another car pulled up next to us. As we finished up our usual last-minute “what if they do this” pre-match strategizing, we both noticed when the driver got out. She was a VERY pregnant woman wearing shorts and a tank top, pulling a heavy-looking tennis bag from the back seat.
My partner and I figured she was a teammate who wasn’t playing (for obvious reasons) and who was perhaps lending her teammate her own bag because they forgot theirs.
We gathered our gear and headed to the clubhouse restroom – because coffee!
Minutes later, we were winding our way through the maze of 34 courts to get to those we were playing on. When we finally arrived, we noticed that the pregnant woman from the parking lot was sitting at the table under the pergola, talking to our opponents and holding a racquet.
I’m thinking, “Awwww… it’s so cute that she misses playing so much that she’s holding a racquet. I’d probably be like that, too.”
We joined our teammates, and everyone was already yapping about you know who. Not because she was supporting her teammates from her seat, but because she was PLAYING.
That’s insane! She had to be at least seven months along, if not more. I felt bad for our line 4 players because they were going to have to deal with that. I just hope she doesn’t get hurt… or worse. She’ll probably retire early…
My partner and I were still talking about her as we grabbed our bags and a can of balls and headed to our court. And our opponents were right behind us.
OH. MY. GAWD.
Yep. One of our opponents was the pregnant woman.
My partner and I had NEVER done any “what if…” pre-match strategizing about playing a pregnant woman because what player thinks that would ever be a thing?
Yet, here we are.
As it turned out, “Ann” (not her real name) was EIGHT months pregnant, not seven! Fear and dread took over, chasing away our years of winning strategies. Our “what ifs” suddenly became “What if she falls?” and, “What if I hit her?” and, “What if she goes into labor?”
Needless to say, the warmup sucked, and so did our match. We were WAY more focused on Ann’s safety and not on our game. Personally, I couldn’t serve hard because I worried I would either hit her or throw her off balance or make her fall if she had to move to return it. I couldn’t hit any overheads or try to rip winners down the line when she was up at net because I didn’t trust myself not to accidentally hit her. When they were one up one back, I couldn’t lob her partner at net and make her run for it. In other words, I couldn’t play my game for fear Ann would get hurt somehow, and that it would be my fault.
We played “keep-away-from-Ann” as best as we could, and still wound up losing the match 3-6, 3-6.
I was so angry. I was angry that I didn’t have the mental strength to play against an eight-month-pregnant opponent, but I was angrier that I was forced into that position in the first place. If our opponents didn’t have enough people, they should have forfeited rather than let her play. Period.
There are no rules that say pregnant women can’t play league tennis, though they do recommend “taking it down a notch.” For the safety of the mothers and their babies, there should be at least one regarding playing at a high level and so close to the delivery date.
Higher-level players are more aggressive and hit the ball hard and fast, and opponents can and do get hit. Another common problem tennis players have is tripping and falling while running to return a ball. It happens more often than you think – even with the pros who have the best training I fell and broke my collarbone playing doubles tennis. Had I also been pregnant, who knows what would have happened to the baby.
But of all our concerns, Ann going into early labor was at the top of the list. It’s not uncommon for babies to arrive early, and my partner and I were uncomfortable with having to take that risk.
Look, I have nothing against pregnant women playing tennis, even eight-month-pregnant women. But they shouldn’t be playing competitively – not at the 4.5 level and definitely not on line 1. Ann had at least 15-20 extra pounds protruding from her belly which would throw off anyone’s balance, creating a potential danger for herself and her baby. And because she didn’t seem to have any concerns for her safety, my partner and I felt obligated to have them for her. What player would not be more concerned about Ann and less about playing tennis?
Ann’s condition gave our opponents a unfair advantage. Maybe that was their plan all along; we’ll never know. All I do know is that I never want that responsibility ever again.
Have you played against an opponent who was pregnant? If so, how did you do? How did you feel about it? And if not, what are your thoughts about it? Let’s discuss in the comments below!