Champion at Any Age
Martha Frederick, almost 90, wins first national tennis title
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Martha Frederick is a student of angles.
Whether she is holding a tennis racquet or a camera, the Vancouver woman is seeking new perspectives, better approaches.
On the tennis court, that inquisitiveness has helped Frederick reap a variety of rewards from a sport that has challenged and intrigued her for decades.
When it comes to tangible rewards, none can quite match the one she collected this month. On Sept. 16, Frederick became a national tennis champion.
During the United States Tennis Association National Women’s 70, 80 and 90 Indoor Championships at Club Green Meadows, she defeated Patricia Yeomans in straight sets to win the national singles title for women who turn 90 and older during 2011.
The 6-1, 6-1 win came on a day when Frederick was so focused that she said she could see the fuzz on the tennis ball while playing Yeomans’ unique serves.
Frederick, who will turn 90 in December, said her focus didn’t waver during the match, and that she felt like she was in “the zone” that successful athletes often talk about.
“It’s a marvelous feeling” being in the zone, she said.
Because she routinely plays with and against players decades younger than herself, Frederick said she was confident about her physical ability, even against an accomplished player such as Yeomans.
“I get a lot of hard tennis here,” Frederick said. “But that match was all mental.”
Yeomans, 94, provided the only competition for Frederick in 90-and-older singles. But she wasn’t just any opponent. Yeomans has been a force in tennis since 1935, when at the age of 18 she won two national girls titles. She has won numerous USTA singles and doubles titles.
“She flew up here to save the 90s (division),” Frederick said.
There are about a dozen women around the country who compete at tournaments in the 90-and-older division, but Frederick understands why they are selective about traveling to tournaments.
She noted that indoor courts are more difficult for players in their 90s than grass and clay courts. Also, there is the travel. As active as she is, and as much as she enjoys competitive tennis, Frederick has no interest in traveling to tournaments.
“I have my hands full right here,” she said of her play in the Vancouver city league.
The title was the first in a national-level event for Frederick, and her second trophy. In 2005, she and a partner from Kennewick took third place in doubles at the national indoor championships for women 80 and older.
“The thing that’s amazing about Martha is she is a student of the game and she loves to learn,” said Travis Rood, one of the Vancouver Tennis Center coaches who works with Frederick. “She has this electric, childlike curiosity that she brings to every lesson. It’s wonderful.”
Frederick was introduced to tennis while growing up in Berkeley, Calif. Basketball was her main game in school. She re-discovered tennis three decades ago while living in Seattle, competing out of Seattle Tennis Club in a Pacific Northwest senior women’s tennis league.
Frederick, who moved to Vancouver more than a decade ago, said she enjoys the technical details of tennis, and credits mental stimulation presented by those details for keeping her sharp.
“I’m a technique freak,” she said. “I like the purity of the game.”
The game is an elixir.
She wears a brace on her left knee, but said her everyday aches and pains don’t bother her during a match.
“Once I’m between the white lines, nothing bothers me,” she said.
In the 90-and-older division, tennis is about placement and positioning. Players are unlikely to chase-down well-placed winners. One challenge presented by Yeomans in their national championship match was the spin on the ball from Yeomans’ underhand serve. Frederick said she changed strategy, moving forward from the service line to meet the serves before they had a chance to spin out of reach.
Long before she became a national champion, Frederick was a shining example of tennis as a lifelong sport, Rood said.
Most of the time, Frederick approaches tennis with vocal enthusiasm.
“When I’m on the court here, I am noisy and demonstrative,” she said.
But in her national championship match, Frederick said, it was important to respect her opponent and the occasion — to remain cool and collected for every point.
Succeeding at that, she said, made the match especially satisfying.
“The highest level any of us tennis players can reach is to keep your cool” in the midst of a competitive match, she said.
By keeping calm, Frederick reached a level she never expected — national champ.