"The proper method of playing mixed doubles is to hit the ball accidentally at the woman player as hard and as accurately as possible." This is only one of "Roberts's Rules of Order" in Art Hoppe's hilarious, instructive new book The Tiddling Tennis Theorem (Viking, $7.95), about the fortunes, affairs and Machiavellian plottings within the Tiddling Tennis Club. It is a fictional but thoroughly recognizable sporting club, a kind of M*A*S*H for tennis players. "It is primarily up to the male," advises Roberts, in his lecture on mixed doubles, "not only to maintain equanimity on his side of the net but to create dissension on the other."
John Doe Roberts, the middle-aged pro of the Tiddling Club, attired in yellowing white flannels and with a dead cigar clenched in his teeth, has never been known to hold a racket in his hand. He teaches by presenting to the student a yellow card from a stack he carries, each bearing one of several maxims—known collectively as Roberts's Rules of Order. Perhaps the maxim that best sums up his teaching methods is "Victory goes not to the swift but to the wily." That applies to the entire Tiddling Tennis Club and its games—a panorama of on-court chicanery and off-court hijinks.
The book includes among its many zany characters the Chinese barman Sam, who dreams of putting iodine in members' cocktails and ground glass in their peanuts. There is the equally vitriolic Miss Agnes, who guards the door, sells elegant tennis equipment and clothes and keeps a hate list.
Hardly any type of tennis player escapes Hoppe's satiric eye. He has fun with everything from rules about kicking members' children off the courts to a bandaging-and-taping session among a set of geriatric doubles players.
To win the "Dee-Cup" away from rival Crestmarsh Racquet Club, Roberts devises his most elaborate and devious scheme, involving a ringer who turns out to be a 7'2" black car thief, the charms of a braless doubles player named Candy Kupp and a pair of men's doubles partners who hit mostly junk shots.
Art Hoppe has given us a look at the maddening and often comic world of club tennis. But it is more than a simple laugh. For in this compact tale is the residue of some home truths about sport and competition, about the win-at-all-costs thinking that has invaded amateur pastimes as deeply as the world of professional sports.