Judy Thomas at the National Championships last October.
Judy Thomas (center) with her 3.0 team at the National Championships.
Judy Thomas, 41, of Avon, Conn., discovered the game of tennis after she retired from being a schoolteacher and her then-young children started school. She decided she wanted to learn something new and attended a beginner’s tennis clinic in her home in Pennsylvania and suddenly she was on a 2.5 USTA League team – and the captain - when a team needed players and someone to lead. Since then she has now been a USTA League Captain for five years and is currently a 3.5 women’s captain near her current home in Connecticut. She took her 3.0 women’s team to the USTA League National Championships last October, which was an experience she will never forget. She also has her husband, Gary, and her children, Andrew, 13, and Sarah, 12, now playing the game she loves as well.
For her dedication and passion for the sport, Thomas has been named the USTA League Captain of the Month for June.
USTA.com: What teams do you/have you captained?
Judy Thomas: I have been a captain for five years total now. I was a 2.5 captain in Pennsylvania for one season in 2008; I started a 2.5 team in Connecticut (in 2009 at another club) and shortly after that 2.5 team I started a 3.0 team in 2010. We have been together going on third year together now and moved up to 3.5 this year. I found my home at the Farmington Valley Racquet Club.
I currently captain Advantage, a 3.5 team out of Farmington Valley Racquet Club. The team was 3.0 in 2010 and because we went to Nationals last year, it was a move up rule. So we could either move up to a 3.5 level or all split up. We decided as a team to give a 3.5 level a try. I have to say in our flight this year, we ended up in third place with a 6-4 record, which is more than I could have ever imagined, so it has been a really great year for us. We just started our summer season, we have won our first two matches so there is a chance if we do as well as we started out that we could make it to Districts in August. A first year 3.5 team making it to Districts would be amazing. We are all working hard and dedicated!
USTA.com: How long did you start playing tennis? Why do you love playing?
Judy Thomas: It is funny because my daughter was going to first grade and my son was in second grade and I was finding stuff to do as it was my first year with both of them in school. I said I am going to try and learn something new. The first day I went by myself to this beginner tennis clinic at a local club, I talked to my neighbor, Jacqui Mitchell, about it, she said she would go too. We started going to this weekly tennis clinic, there were some other girls there who had played on a 2.5 team and they said they were moving up to 3.0, so there are going to be two spots on a 2.5 team, and asked if we would be interested. We looked at each other, I said ‘A team? I am old. Teams are what kids do.’ I remember joking because I didn’t know that the flat hand signal meant the ball was in or anything like that.
Then it turned into, we said ‘Sure, we’ll play. Do you have to be good?’ The next thing you know they needed two girls to captain and my neighbor and I agreed to captain this team and it was just a fantastic experience. We played that spring – one USTA season – and we had just finished our first season in July and I found out my husband took a job in Connecticut. I had to tell everybody that I was moving. One of the first things I did, above looking at school for my children, the very next thing I did was search for tennis clubs. At the time were three local tennis clubs, I joined two clubs at the same time because I wanted to find the same experience I had in Pennsylvania. I played at both for a while and ultimately one of the clubs I made friends and convinced them to start up a team and it is all history from there.
Our team is made up of women from their mid-30s to mid-50s. None of our girls played in college or anything like that. Tennis is something we all started later in life, all for different reasons as to why we decided to play and it has become a huge part of all our lives. I can’t imagine life without tennis, if you ask anyone on my team, they would say the same exact thing.
I am a president of our newcomers group in our area, which is a group when new people come to the area, they can easily meet friends and have activities to do and I ran the tennis interest group just to spread my love of tennis to anybody who is willing to give it a try. I can’t get enough of it. I have my husband playing now, my two kids as well, they were just playing a little, they were tolerating it but once you start to get a little better, you want to keep playing. Now they just got new racquets and they are equally excited as I am. And it as fun watching them play for me as it is being on the court.
USTA.com: Why do you enjoy being a captain?
Judy Thomas: Being a captain for my tennis team, Advantage, has been an incredible experience. As a former middle school teacher it feels natural to be the leader of a group only now my classroom is a tennis court and my students are my teammates. I enjoy being a captain because it takes all the lessons I have learned my entire life and allows me to see those lessons play out on the court. As a team we have learned the value of hard work, playing fair, good sportsmanship, being organized, focusing on the positive and being a team player. I am very fortunate to have a great group of ladies to captain. They make my job very easy and make ever yday on the tennis court a pleasure. We are beyond teammates. We are friends for life bonded through this fabulous sport of tennis.
USTA.com: Your team went to the National Championships last fall? What was that experience like?
Judy Thomas: We went last October and it was amazing. It was the 3.0 Nationals in Tucson, Ariz. It was an experience of a lifetime. We find that somehow, someway, the Nationals conversation comes up and we just start again and talk about the great memories, the great matches, the wonderful other players we met across the country. We still light up if the topic of Nationals comes up. I look back and most tennis players and anyone who plays USTA League Tennis, the likelihood of going to Nationals is really slim so when it happened for us, now we know the possibility is there and we would love to get back again.
There were 16 or 17 teams and we ended up 15th. We celebrated every line that we won. We had one of our No. 1 singles players go down in her first match, we had another player sick out there, we had all these little things that happened, and re-adjustments of lineups, five minutes before the lineup was due at the tournament desk but even despite that, we all bonded together as a team and win or lose, it was still a fabulous experience It was an experience that I hope that everyone gets to enjoy.
USTA.com: How often do you play tennis now?
Judy Thomas: It depends. I play about four times a week on a regular basis and then depending if we have a match on the weekend, that week I would play five days.
At the racquet club, we have eight courts. I will stop and say, ‘It is truly amazing, look at all the people who are when they could be doing anything.’ There is such a passion and love for the sport. It is just amazing to look around and see so many people that have the addiction and love for the sport. I just chuckle, it is just amazing that so many people feel what I feel, whether you are a beginner or 5.0 player, to see that passion.
USTA.com: Do you or had you played other sports before you started tennis?
Judy Thomas: I played sports in elementary school until eighth grade. I am only five feet tall but I played some basketball and softball but once high school came, it was very competitive. I did a few other things but nothing really organized. Tennis has been my first competitive, organized sport, other than elementary school. I joke to my parents, ‘You didn’t start me playing tennis, why?’
USTA.com: How did you feel when you found out you were named Captain of the Month?
Judy Thomas: I was completely surprised. Honestly, it is a huge honor. I was surprised because I didn’t know how it came about. It was Amanda Layden, one of my teammates, who wrote this wonderful, heartfelt letter. There are so many captains out there that do all the scheduling matches, organizing players, being inspirational, all at the same time so to be recognized for that, I was completely humbled because there are so many of us across the country who love it and to be recognized, it made my day, my month and my year!
USTA.com: Who is your favorite tennis player?
Judy Thomas: I love watching the Bryan Brothers. Their domination on the doubles court is amazing.
USTA.com: What is your favorite surface to play on?
Judy Thomas: I love the speed of a hard court.
USTA.com: What kind of racquet do you use?
Judy Thomas: Boris Becker Sportster
USTA.com: What is your favorite tennis tournament and why?
Judy Thomas: Farmington Valley Racquet Club’s Holiday Doubles Tournament is my favorite. It brings together awesome players from our club for a four hour day of competitive and fun tennis.
USTA.com: What is your favorite professional sports team, if any?
Judy Thomas: The Philadelphia Phillies…..Go Phillies!!
USTA.com: What is the best part of your tennis game?
Judy Thomas: I absolutely love the net. It is my favorite place to be on the court.
USTA.com: If you could choose any doubles partner, who would it be?
Judy Thomas: That is any easy question. My doubles partner and good friend Mary Butler.
USTA.com: What is the best aspect of playing USTA League tennis?
Judy Thomas: Playing USTA League tennis has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life. USTA tennis is bonding, therapeutic, competitive, frustrating, active and full of laughs all rolled into one. I have convinced my family that tennis is my job and when I’m on the court I am ‘working.’
USTA.com: If you could attend one Grand Slam tournament, what would it be and why?
Judy Thomas: I would love to attend the US Open. Even more than attend the US Open I would love to get to experience what it would be like to play in a tournament of that caliber. When my team made it to Nationals this past October we referred to it as our US Open experience.