2020 USTA Eastern Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient: Ingrid Rehwinkel
Ingrid Rehwinkel, of Red Bank, N.J., recently received USTA Eastern’s 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award for over 50 years of steadfast dedication to the game as an instructor, coach and player.
Ingrid and her husband Siegfried began playing tennis together after the birth of their daughter in 1966, and the young couple was immediately hooked. One day, Ingrid was practicing against a wall at the Brookdale Community College when a woman named Trudie approached her and asked if she would consider giving lessons. “I said, ‘I’ll give it a try,’” Ingrid recalls. “You tell me if you like it and I’ll tell you if I like it!’”
Quickly they realized they both liked it—and a lifelong teaching career was born. “Trudie did so well that she beat her friends, and they asked, ‘How are you beating me now?’” Ingrid remembers with a laugh. “And Trudie said, ‘I’m taking lessons with Ingrid!’ So she brought me many more pupils.”
Using the money from these lessons, Ingrid attended acclaimed tennis instructor Dennis Van der Meer’s equally-acclaimed tennis university. She impressed Van der Meer so much that he recommended Ingrid for her first formal job as a pro at New Jersey’s newly-opened six-court Princeton Racquet Club. “I learned from the bottom up there, so that was really wonderful,” she says. “Of course, the club was an hour-and-a-half away from me, and I had my two young kids. I’ll never forget one time I came home at almost one o’clock in the morning. On the stairs was a glass of water, three cookies and a note from my son that said ‘I hope you had a good day.’”
As a teaching pro, Ingrid never stopped honing and fine-tuning her craft. She trained with famed Australian Davis Cup Captain and coach Harry Hopman at weeklong sessions for many years in Florida. “Mr. Hop was an incredible coach, but one always wished not to be put on his court because he constantly fed you lobs and dropshots,” Ingrid says. “You were scrambling, out of breath, and he’d say, ‘If Margaret Court can fall down and still run down the ball, you have to [do] more!’” In addition to Hopman, Ingrid also learned from a wealth of other tennis masters over her career, including Nick Bollettieri, Peter Burwash, Rick Macci and Bill Tym. One of her most “cherished” experiences, she says, was attending a three-day coaching seminar led by Arthur Ashe in Minneapolis.
Ingrid eventually went on to work at a variety of clubs in New Jersey, including the Little Silver Tennis Club, the Beacon Hill Country Club and the Seabright Lawn and Cricket Club. She even coached the Rumson-Fair Haven High School boys varsity tennis team for one season, leading them to a conference championship title in 1981. But perhaps Ingrid’s most lasting contribution to the tennis ecosystem in the state is the junior program at the New Shrewsbury Racquet Club, a program she developed about a year after the adults-only facility opened. A parent from Beacon Hill (where Ingrid taught outdoors during warm months) asked George Gil, the then-manager of New Shrewsbury, if Ingrid could please use the indoor facilities to teach kids during the winter season. A trial period was granted.
“So I had 21 kids tip-toeing in and they all had to behave,” Ingrid says. “Otherwise it was the end of the junior program!”
Luckily, the students exhibited exemplary behavior. Not only does the program still exist to this day, it is much expanded and sustains the club. Ingrid, too, has never left. “The [first] juniors were all fantastic, and we made the program,” she says. “And it’s thriving today. So that’s very good.”
Ingrid estimates that between New Shrewsbury and the other clubs in New Jersey, she has taught thousands of children the sport over the course of her career. Her most successful charge is undoubtedly Nicole Arendt, the former WTA world No. 3 in women’s doubles and 1997 Wimbledon women’s doubles finalist (with Manon Bollegraf). Arendt herself now coaches juniors for Tennis Australia; in a 2018 interview with a local Australian newspaper, she specifically credited Ingrid (and Ingrid’s enthusiasm) for instilling her with a love of the sport.
“I taught Nicole with three eight-year-old boys, and she was only five,” Ingrid says. “She would always say to the boys who were much bigger than she was, ‘Hit the ball over the net!’ I will never forget this little girl saying that, because she would never miss. She didn’t understand that people could hit the ball into the net. She is very special.”
Ingrid, too, has proven to be quite gifted as a player on the court. In addition to her teaching career, she has competed in tournaments all over the world—everywhere from Antalya, Turkey to Poertschach, Austria to Christchurch, New Zealand. In 2019 she achieved the No. 8 singles ranking and No. 10 doubles ranking in the country for 80 & Over Women. Just this past February—before the COVID-19 pandemic put a hold on competition—she won doubles tournaments in Charlotte, S.C. and Havana, Cuba. (The sport, it turns out, is a family affair: Both Rehwinkel children played No. 1 singles for their high school teams and then went on to receive tennis scholarships to Purdue and Santa Clara, while Ingrid’s grandson currently competes at Swarthmore College.)
Now 83, Ingrid is training hard every day in hopes of increasing her ranking when she ages into the 85 & Over tournaments. And she has no plans to retire from teaching tennis any time soon. “It’s a part of me,” she reflects. “When I’m on court with the kids, I’m just joy-filled. I want [my students] to love it for a lifetime. Because tennis is a joy and an enrichment. It connects you with people, and it’s something you share together.”
Read more about our 2020 award recipients:
Tennis Man of the Year: Daniel Burgess
Tennis Woman of the Year: Adrienne Alteri
Tennis Organization of the Year: Empire Tennis Academy
Tennis Family of the Year: The Perry Family
Junior Courage Award: Gavin Vander Schaaf
Adult Courage Award: Mary-Margaret Sohns