By now the American tennis boom is history, taking its place alongside the Industrial Revolution and the Space Age. This is evidenced not only by the sport's overexposure on television, the ever-expanding number of players and courts as well as the variety of equipment being sold, but also by the glut of tennis books covering every aspect of the game from Ashe to Zen.
Thus it should come as no surprise that one of the latest works on the market ignores the backhand and comes to grips instead with the backhanded compliment—as in your opponent yelling across the net, "Nice try!" after you've just double-faulted your match away. That is only one of the psychological booby traps treated in Love and Hate on the Tennis Court (Scribner's, $7.95). Written by Boston psychiatrists Stanley H. Cath and Alvin Kahn and journalist Nathan Cobb, Love and Hate is a be-your-own-shrink type of book, a compendium of the psychological afflictions and emotional turmoil visited upon players whose stage is the tennis court.
The authors begin with the premise that tennis is merely an advanced version of the first games we played as children: peekaboo and hide-and-seek (Is nothing sacred?). When tennis-cum-peekaboo then is played seriously by adults, it becomes a complex game of "psychological sharing." Because emotions, as well as the ball, ride back and forth, we develop "tennis tensions" that color our personalities on—and off—the court.
Do you consistently blow 5-1 leads? Throw your racket? Feel guilty about a) sneaking out of the office, b) hitting bullet volleys at your opponent's face, c) criticizing your spouse when you play mixed doubles together, d) cheating? Do you feel not guilty about any of the above? Whatever your own tennis neurosis is, you are sure to find it in Love and Hate oh the Tennis Court. Unfortunately, the book is long on psycho-speak, defining our problems with terms like "obsessive/ compulsive" and "aggression-binding." and it does not offer a 1-2-3 solution for "choking" that you could jot down on a wristband.
Once you get past the heavy analytics, there are deeply personal and often downright racy case histories to keep you entertained during rain delays and court resurfacings. Take John and Elizabeth, "married doubles" partners who go through an agonizing "tennis divorce"; Lou, the hit-and-run accident victim who takes out his aggressions on opponents who get too close to the net; Rhoda, the compulsive cheater; Martha, who can't sleep the night before a match because she's trying to decide which outfit to wear.
Indeed, there is an entire chapter devoted to the special problems facing women who because of leisure time and a growing confidence that they are welcome are more apt to become "tennis junkies" than men. Coping with the contrast between their traditional nonaggressive role in society and the no-holds-barred climate on the court leads to some interesting discussions, like what happens when women start beating up on men.
Your first reaction to Love and Hate may be disbelief that people already into tennis for small fortunes would spend $60 an hour to lie on a psychiatrist's couch getting their games analyzed. But as the book attests, and those players among us know, the game does crazy things to people.