Tennis rivalries aren’t the exclusive property of legendary players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal trading impossibly angled groundstrokes on the terre bateau of the French Open or the immaculate lawns of Wimbledon. For Riverside resident Michael Mahoney, 51, and close friends like Joe Lyden and Ron Zigman, their battles “between the lines” are often waged at the Midtown Tennis Club of Chicago.

According to the kiddingly hyperbolic Lyden, their contrast in styles mimic the epic exchanges between the aforementioned “Swiss Maestro” and “Mallorcan Bull” only with a decidedly Midtown middle-age twist.

“It’s almost like Federer and Nadal when we are playing each another,” Lyden says with a laugh. “We go back 15 years competing, playing and practicing against each other. My game is more of a power game whereas Michael is a very tough competitor who runs down everything. He’s a bulldog and once he gets his jaws into you, he won’t let go.”

Mahoney is also the vice president and general manager of the Midtown Tennis Club of Chicago. Lyden works as the club’s manager.

Mahoney and Zigman have developed a friendly rivalry through the years as well.

“Michael is a student of the game,” Zigman says. “He plays to win, but he is gracious in both victory and defeat. You can’t say that about all players.”

Mahoney is the No. 1 ranked 50-and-over singles player in Chicago, holds the No. 2 ranking for the same age group in the Midwest, and is a top player in Chicago’s 4.5 skill level.

“I’m goal-oriented and set my sights on remaining at the top of my game,” Mahoney says. “As long as I’m improving and playing to my potential, I view that as the meaningful accomplishment more than a particular result.”

He recently won the Midtown Spring Championship held at the club on March 5 and 6. Mahoney won three matches and didn’t drop a set en route to the coveted title. In the final, Mahoney defeated Michael Kessler 6-2, 6-0.

Mahoney consolidated his Midtown performance with a solid showing at the Midwest Indoor 50-and-over singles tournament held in Cincinnati. Seeded No. 2 in the draw, Mahoney lost to Mark Schierenbeck 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals.

A fleet-footed backcourt player, Mahoney uses exemplary defensive skills to wear down opponents while employing high percentage tennis. However, with age and knee surgery in 2007, sagacious on-court adjustments are in progress.

“I have worked on shortening up points and dictating the play more,” Mahoney says. “My opponents would probably still categorize me as a bit of a retriever, but I’m playing more of an offensive style.”

Committed to developing his game via the avenues of practice, diet and strategy, perhaps the determining catalyst for Mahoney’s impressive run has been an unqualified green light from Team Mahoney.

“My wife and kids are very understanding,” he says. “Typically, I’ll play about two tournaments a month.”

Growing up in Rochester, New York, Mahoney developed a love of tennis playing at public parks while forming friendships.

“I still can remember my first tennis lesson at the Midtown Tennis Club (now Midtown Athletic Club) in Rochester,” Mahoney says. “From that moment, tennis was addictive for me.”

While playing college tennis at the University of Rochester, Mahoney laid the foundation for a career like an adept drop shot.

“I started working for our [Midtown] company in 1978,” he says. “I was teaching tennis at the Midtown Tennis Club in Rochester. After finishing my studies, I would hustle over to club and teach from 9 p.m. to midnight.”

Mahoney gathered further administrative and teaching experience working at several tennis ports of call, including Syracuse, Port Washington (Long Island), New York City and Evansville, Indiana.

“I’ve been fortunate to pursue my personal enjoyment of playing tennis, while simultaneously earning a living at something I really enjoy doing,” he says. “As much as I enjoyed teaching tennis, I always found time to work on my game.”

In 1990, Mahoney proudly accepted the position of general manager at Chicago’s Midtown Tennis Club. Founded in 1969, the Midtown Tennis Club of Chicago is one of the premier tennis clubs in the country. Midtown has 10 clubs overall, five in the Chicago area.

“We’re the largest indoor tennis club in the world designed from the ground up specifically for tennis,” Mahoney says about the Chicago facility. “We strive for our members to feel valued and appreciated. It’s important to us that people feel like they belong here.

“Whether the programs are competitive, instructional, recreational or fitness-oriented, we’re all about socializing and using tennis as the focal point of what we do.”

The club offers myriad tennis initiatives for any age and skill level player, exemplified by hugely popular programs like Tennis in No Time, Quick Start and Cardio Tennis.

This year, the Midtown Tennis Club of Chicago is celebrating its 40th anniversary on Oct. 16. Billie Jean King has been a club member and tennis greats like John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova have either played or visited Midtown on several occasions. Exciting plans of club expansion are also in the works.

“The anniversary celebration is going to be the biggest tennis party Chicago has ever seen,” says Butch Staples, the head tennis professional at Midtown Chicago. “A lot of the club’s success is attributable to Michael. He’s a high-energy guy with a passion for tennis and our club.”

Away from Midtown, Mahoney enjoys spending time with his family in Riverside. Mahoney and his wife, Bridget, have three children: Michael, Jack and Kelly. Michael, 15, is a freshman at Fenwick who is on the water polo, swim and cross-country teams. St. Mary students Jack, 13, plays basketball and Keely, 9, enjoys tennis and Irish dancing.

“Whatever my kids are doing, that is my hobby,” Mahoney says. “My wife’s sister lives in Riverside. She introduced us to the community [in 1995] and we have loved it ever since.”

Regarding his tennis future, Mahoney has no plans for a premature retirement a la Bjorn Borg.

“I love to play tennis,” he says. “Even when I am competing on the court against someone, I like to think we are working cooperatively on some level. I like to call it a ‘sporting behavior.'”

Surely, Mahoney’s rivals agree.