Author Interviews

All this year I have had guest authors on my website answering questions about writing and life. My last interview for 2006 pertains to my other passion, tennis. I somehow picked up a racquet in 1998 and haven’t put it down. I’ve had many different racquets, thinking perhaps one would make me play like Venus or Serena Williams. Nope, but still I play at least twice a week. I also have a closet filled with tennis outfits. This is the only time a woman my age can wear miniskirts and halter tops and not be called a floozy. I co-captain a women’s competitive team and have made many great friends.

Jimmy Connors and Sylvia

Her name is Sylvia Gothard and she’s been Director of the tennis program at Homewood Flossmoor Racquet and Fitness Club for over twenty years. Many women who started out as students in one of Sylvia’s classes are now full time tennis teaching professionals. Many others have gained strength and confidence from the growth experience Sylvia provides to succeed in other diverse activities, professions and businesses. Through her thirty-seven years in the field, she has developed many high school women tennis players that have gone on to compete at the college level.

Her credentials and awards sighting her commitment to the sport are many, but a few are:

  1. United States Pro Tennis Association (USPTA) Master Professional – only a handful of women in the United States hold this honor
  2. Past President of NIPTA – Northern Illinois Professional Tennis Association
  3. MWPTA Nancy Mickler Award – 1989/91 – given to the USPTA female tennis Pro that has done the most to grow the game of tennis and has been instrumental in all aspects of the game
  4. United States Pro Tennis Association, Illinois State Professional of the year, 1995/97
  5. Chicago District Tennis Association, Tournament Director of the year 1992, 1997 and 2000
  6. Founder and Director of Tennisfest which recently won the National Tennis Magazine Program of the year award.
  7. World Team Tennis, Billie Jean King Award to recognize her support of tennis and the Physical Fitness of Southland area tennis players.
  8. The Aldo De Angelis Leadership Award, September 1999, for outstanding leadership and vision on behalf of the Hospitality, Travel and Tourism industry in the Chicago Southland Area.

Welcome, Sylvia!

Q:Could you tell us where you are from?

London, England

Q:When did you first express an interest in tennis? And, how did you go about starting to play?

A: I was about twelve years old when I dragged my Dad onto a grass tennis court on the cliffs in Bude, Cornwall. (He had never been on a court before either!) What was even funnier was getting my Mum on a court and my Aunt Em!

Nancy, Betty Stove, Judy Dalton and Sylvia at Wimbledon

Q:What drew you to the sport?

A: The glamour of watching Wimbledon on television.

Q:How did you go about gaining on court experience playing tennis?

A: I played tennis at school on an asphalt schoolyard and I walked over to a little local club (that also had asphalt courts) to see if anyone would play with me. Since I didn’t play well, I did not get many takers for a long time but I was persistent.

Q:When did you come to the United States and how did you end up in Illinois?

A: I came to Chicago in May of 1969. I had married an American in London, who had been working in England for over ten years.

Q:When did you first start teaching tennis?

A: September 1969. Dave Muir interviewed me at South Side Racquet Club.

Q:How old were your students when you first began teaching?

A: At the time, I was only 24 so the majority seemed very old!

Q:What are some of the first things you tried to teach to your students about tennis?

A: Have fun and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Even mistakes can be funny!

Q:You’ve been on the women’s tennis circuit, how was it then compared to now?

A: It wasn’t a women’s circuit. Men and women played in the same events. It was far more social. Cocktail parties. No personal trainers and minimal entourages. Many players were dependent on housing and developed life long friendships with those people. Today, players are sheltered so much more from fans and spectators and other players.

Sylvia and MacEnroe fans at Wimbledon

Q:Who did you meet that wasn’t at all like their public persona?

A: Probably John McEnroe. His exterior was that of a brash brat, his interior was that of one of the most philanthropic players out there and one of the smartest. He also has the one of the best collection of movie posters in the world.

Q:Who did you meet that was like their public persona?

A: Billie Jean King – always enthusiastic, ebullient! She loves the game! Her favorite phrase “Go for it!”

Q:What’s your favorite color?

A: Yellow.

Q:What do you like to read? Who’s your favorite author(s)?

A: Watership Down or anything by Richard Adams. Sometimes, Terry Pratchett. My last two books: “Winkie” (strange but very interesting!) and now “From Baghdad with Love”

Q:When you’re away from tennis, what do you do to relax?

A: I have three small businesses which can all be relaxing: Saggy’s Strings and Collectibles (Racquet repair and tennis antiques and collectibles including over 1500 tennis postcards); Earthly Healings, therapeutic grade essential oils (for the well being of humans and pets); SIPS – Saggy’s International Pet Services (phase 1, Pet sitting now in operation). I have also just started knitting again – after 45 years!!!

Q:You’ve had the opportunity to play on the Wimbledon courts, what’s that like?

A: I played the Wimbledon Qualifying one year but this was not actually played on the Wimbledon courts. It was played at a place called Roehampton which is not too far from Wimbledon. The Qualifier continues to be held at Roe Hampton.

Q:Every year, you take a group to Wimbledon, what’s been the most fun about the trip?

A: I have done the Wimbledon trip for eighteen years and the most fun part is to say that over 240 people have experienced the joy and exhilaration that is Wimbledon. This was what put me in love with tennis almost 50 years ago! Plus I get to show off my homeland!!!

Q:How has the female tennis player changed?

A: Fitness is a major component of the sport. Years ago, the players were not as muscular as players of today (with the exception of Margaret Court). Even Martina Navratilova was a little chubby when she won her first two Wimbledons.

There are also more injuries today. Also, thanks to Billie Jean King and a few other rebel players who paid one dollar to create a professional organization, the players are much, much richer today!

Q:In terms of living life, what are some of the lessons a person can learn from playing tennis?

A: All of life’s lessons can be learned on a tennis court: Respect, decision-making, acceptance of others, manners, self-control, self-esteem, camaraderie, conflict management, sportsmanship to start. As Kipling wrote “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same”.

Nancy, Tracy Austin and Sylvia at Homewood Flossmoor Racquet and Fitness Center

Q:Every year you put on the Homewood Flossmoor Tennisfest, what makes you do this every year?

A: Tennisfest puts tennis on stage for almost two weeks. It is like a play with different acts (events). It is fun, brings people together and brings people to our community.

Q:Homewood Flossmoor sponsors United States Tennis Association Junior tournaments, how have the junior players changed over the years?

A: I will redirect this question “How have the parents changed?” More parents are living through their kids and are trying to make decisions for their kids that have a negative impact on the player and the game. It is not unusual now for a player to be defaulted from a match because of the actions of the parent. Tennis is a game for life and parents push so hard that they ruin the enjoyment for so many players. After all it is just a game and less than 1% of the junior players will achieve greatness. For the most part, the kids were and still are great!

Q:What do you think are your best achievements since being at Homewood Flossmoor Racquet Club?

A: 1)I became a United States Professional Tennis Association Master Professional in 1991. At the time there were only four women MP’s (including myself). There are now about 155 total Master Professionals in the country of which 11 are women.

2) Our club receiving the “United States Tennis Association Facility of the Year Award” in 1988 and the “United States Tennis Association Member Organization of the Year Award” in 2001. To be number 1 in the country was and still is fantastic!

Q:Tennis players are known for throwing temper tantrums on the court, what’s your opinion of why they do this?

A: It could be for a variety of reasons: Lack of control, release of emotion which can help them play better, intimidation of the opponent, they are just not happy people. (At some point in my career, I think that I have fit in to each category!)

Q:Did you ever have a temper tantrum?

A: Yes, many! My worst was throwing my racquet up in the air in disgust and it landed over the fence and in a pear tree in someone’s back yard. It was very humbling to knock on the door and have to ask if I could retrieve the racquet from their tree!

Sylvia, Billie Jean King and Nancy Watland

Q:Could you tell a little bit about your friendships with Billie Jean King and Judy Dalton? For those who don’t follow tennis, would you provide a little background on them?

A: Billie Jean King is a pioneer for not only tennis but Women’s Sports and Women’s Rights. Her match against Bobbie Riggs is legendary as are her 20 Wimbledon titles and her creation of World Team Tennis.

Judy Dalton (nee Tegart), is from Melbourne, Australia who was #4 in the world. She reached the Wimbledon Singles final in 1968 only to lose to Billie Jean King in a very close match. My Dad never forgave Judy for losing that match and I would have to agree it should have been hers.

I have been blessed to know both of these women since the mid 1960’s. Wow! Is that hard to believe! Their inspiration, support and friendship have been unparalleled. We met in the locker room of a very prestigious club in London – The Hurlingham Club.

They were the Stars and I was merely a name in the draw. What started out as idle conversation materialized into so much more as the months and years went by. I can remember going to the French Championships in Paris. I was with Judy and my husband to be John, we met up with Billie Jean and Rosie Casals and I thought “how great to get a photo of all of us”. Except I was too embarrassed to ask Billie Jean to be in the photo so I asked her to take the photo instead. Things have changed since then though! I hasten to add that I never played at the same level as Billie, Judy, Rosie (or even Betty) but I have thoroughly enjoyed our interaction and I have been so proud to have them visit HFRFC and even more proud of our friendships. Judy is part of our Wimbledon trip, I see Billie Jean at USTA meetings and I usually meet up with Betty (Stove) in the Last Eight Club at Wimbledon.

Q:Why should adults play tennis? I’ve got my own ideas, but you are constantly bringing in new players.

A: It’s all the “f’s”. Fun! Friends! Family! Fitness! It’s FANTASTIC!

Thanks, Sylvia and I’m glad you cleaned up the “f’s”. I was getting a little worried there.

If you have any questions or comments for Sylvia, please send an email to YasminePhoenix@aol.com

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