Inspires at Sectionals
USTA Midwest | October 10, 2017
It’s not unusual for parents and children to play together on a doubles team – tennis is a family sport. There are many mother/daughter and father/son teams, however it is somewhat unusual to find a parent/child team playing in the USTA Adult League 55 & Over age division. But a mother/daughter pair from Madison, Wisconsin, helped their team advance to the USTA Adult League 55 & Over Section Championships, which took place Sept. 22-24 in Carmel, Ind.; the pair also won the Sportsmanship Award, having been nominated by a rival team.
Mary Harkness, age 84, and her daughter Susan Harkness-Shifflett, age 54, play at the John Powless Tennis Center in Madison. However, the two have only been playing together one year and Susan has only been playing the sport for two years.
Although Mary tried to teach Susan how to play when she was little, she said she did not do well and therefore had had no interest in the game.
“I was not very good and had trouble with control of the ball,” Susan said. “I probably hit the ball over the fence more than in the court, and since I’ve always had a competitive spirit, when I wasn’t immediately good at it, I lost interest.”
Susan moved to Madison four years ago to help care for her father. Mary finally talked Susan into playing tennis with her and some friends, just two years ago. She borrowed a racquet and started hitting with them. She enjoyed playing and soon began participating in weekly drills with her mom.
“I still had poor control of the ball but everyone was patient with me and encouraged me to learn the game and continue playing,” Susan said.
After that, Susan signed up for “Sweet Swingers” drills at the John Powless Tennis Center where her mother plays. After encouragement from her mom, Susan joined USTA Adult League in November 2016 and started playing with her mom’s team this past winter. Knowing that the team had a good chance of doing well this season, she started taking lessons and is actively playing when she can.
“I absolutely love the game and wish I had gotten back into it long ago,” she said. “Things are just unfolding for me with tennis. I’m meeting more people to play with through my group lesson, subbing on a summer team and through Sweet Swingers. As my mom told me, it’s a great sport and a game you can play all your life!”
Her mother, Mary, began playing tennis when she was in 7th grade. Growing up in southern California, public courts were available, tennis racquets were only $5 and a can of balls was $1, making it an accessible, affordable sport. She went on to play for her high school team but then quit while she was in college and medical school. Mary, a retired pediatrician, didn’t pick up the game again until she and her husband moved to Miami, Florida where they played Mixed Doubles. She started playing USTA Adult League when she moved to Madison, Wisconsin, playing for the 65 Senior Team.
After having cardiac surgery, she returned to the game she loves and is so excited to be playing with Susan. She says her daughter’s game compliments her own, making them a pretty good team. Even though Mary is in her 80s, she doesn’t see herself quitting any time soon. She plays twice a week and subs for others when she can.
“I have loved playing tennis all of these years. I love the rhythm of the tennis balls on the court, the variety of shots available and the wonderful exercise we get,” she said. “I hope I can continue to play, avoid injuries and continue to give my friends a good game.”
Even though their team didn’t win the Sectional Championship, Mary’s and Susan’s spirit and enthusiasm were noticed and they were presented with a Sportsmanship Award from an opposing team. The two did win their last match of the competition, with a crowd cheering them on.
“When we came up from the courts there was a big crowd and a round of applause from everybody which made me cry,” said Susan. “We had so much fun and everyone we played against and interacted with was so kind and fun. It was great bonding time for me and my mom and our entire team!”