Centennial Spotlight: Bruce Sartwell

October 12, 2023

From a Wooden Racquet to Nationals: Bruce Sartwell's Inspiring 50-Year Tennis Journey

Bruce Sartwell's tennis journey is a testament to the enduring power of the sport, transcending mere victories and losses. Over the course of five decades, Bruce has forged deep friendships and cherished memories through his passion for tennis


His tennis journey began in 1965, when a high school friend invited him to play in Silver Spring, MD. With a 1940’s wooden racquet borrowed from his father's attic, Bruce discovered the joy of the game. 


From there, his tennis adventure intertwined with significant milestones in his life, including his time at the University of Maryland and in the Navy, where he played while stationed at Pearl Harbor. Tennis became not only a way to connect with others on the ship but also a means of fostering camaraderie. 


After completing his service with the Navy in 1973, Bruce moved to a Beltsville, MD., condo complex that featured two tennis courts. Playing tennis turned out to be a good way to meet the neighbors. 

With a move to Columbia, MD., he encountered the vibrant tennis scene and became a fixture in local tournaments beginning in 1978.  In 1981, Bruce heard about USTA Mid-Atlantic forming leagues and he decided to put together a team with his friends –they won the local league and then lost in the first round of the playoffs in Washington, DC.  Bruce continued to captain a league team for several years and played on many teams but never made it beyond the first round of the playoffs until 2021.  Then, the 65+ age group team that he co-captained won the local level, then moved on to sectionals which they also won. Unfortunately, travel during elevated levels of COVID-19 was a concern, so the team chose to not make the trip to Nationals.  

Would 2022 finally be the milestone year of Bruce and his team making it to Nationals? “I have either been captain or played on USTA teams every year from 1981 through 2022 (except 2020 of course).  And what turned out to be personally remarkable, it took 40 years for me to play on a team that went to Nationals!”  


For Bruce, the game of tennis has meant more than just on-the-court wins. “I have made tons of friendships through tennis. I still play tennis with someone who played with me on my 1981 team. A majority of my friends are my tennis friends. Tennis is a competitive sport, but it also is a very social sport. Tennis involves teamwork, strategy, personal integrity, physical skills as well as the joy of making friendships. When you combine all those things together – it’s what makes tennis a great game.” 

As a self-taught player, Bruce never took formal tennis lessons. In fact, he is known for his atypical backhand – he hits his backhand with the “wrong side” of the racquet. “You could say my trademark is the upside-down backhand. Surprisingly, I hit it with the same velocity as my forehand.” He knows it doesn’t look natural, especially after watching videos of himself playing, “but that’s the way I have been playing for more than 57 years. Along the way, I have thought ‘maybe I should take lessons and have a true backhand?’ and then I think ‘oh, the heck with it! I am going to stick with what I have been doing.' ”


Bruce is grateful for USTA’s role in promoting and developing the growth of tennis in the Mid-Atlantic region. “It’s an impressive organization, with the structure of the leagues, age groups, and supporting sections.” 


Given Bruce’s longevity in playing tennis for more than five decades, he‘s experienced USTA Mid-Atlantic’s mission to increase access to tennis so everyone can experience the physical, social, and emotional health benefits of the sport into the next 100 years. “There’s so many benefits to tennis. It’s a sport where you are outdoors, exercise, you have to use your mind, social interactions, mental challenges. For all those reasons, tennis has so much to offer – it’s really whole-body wellness. It’s really a sport of a lifetime.”  


Bruce’s commitment to the court is impressive. When asked if he didn’t have tennis in his life, he would “probably play pickleball.” Fortunately for him, an unconventional backhand will also work just fine.

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This year USTA Mid-Atlantic, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is celebrating 100 years of promoting tennis and its physical, social, and emotional health benefits. Get involved and show your support for the next 100 years of tennisLearn about our impact in the region and how USTA Mid-Atlantic creates community, character, and well-being.

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