The women come to tennis desperate to learn. They take lesson after lesson, and often regress because they are afraid to play. In a scene repeated often, a woman in starchy new gear asked an athletic-looking young man at Washington Park, "Do you give lessons?" "No," said the man. "Well," said the woman, "do you know anybody who does?"
Judie Heppenstall is sitting with her back to the Steinway piano in the house she has recently purchased on Holly Road. The Steinway would have been her living had she not, as a young divorcee with two small boys, discovered that more people want to pound a tennis ball than a piano. Beyond the Steinway and a picture window and past a row of pine trees, an earthmover is slicing into the gravel that will be the last layer of base for her private court. The house and court are in Englewood, a suburb of Denver.
"I'm taking a chance buying this, building the court," she says. "I know that. It scares me, but I'm not looking back. Most of the people out here are loaded. I'm out here to make a living."
She is blonde and blue-eyed, in her 30s, with a figure still shipshape. She had studied to be a concert pianist in New York, but marriage had brought her to Denver, where the piano-playing market was bad. "They think you play for fun out here," she says.
In October of 1969 a man drove his car through a stop sign and put Judie Heppenstall through her windshield. There were five operations on her neck. Vertebrae were fused. She cannot turn her head a normal range.
"I was sitting around recovering, in my brace, looking for something to do," she says. "I'd never played tennis as a kid, but my husband had been a squash champion, so when we came here in 1960 we started it. I took lessons from Sherrie Pruitt. In those days you could walk up to the Denver Tennis Club and ask, 'How much to join?' Now there's a three-year wait.
"Anyway, we wound up at the Crestmore Swim and Tennis Club, and I won a few trophies that didn't amount to much. Silver in the closet. At the time I had around 25 kids taking piano at $5 an hour. Some of my friends started asking if I'd teach them tennis. I guess they were embarrassed to go to a real pro. I said, sure, if you like. It's the same principle as piano—the one-to-one relationship.
"I went back to Sherrie to take lessons on how to give lessons. I was going to go to a three-day clinic at Vale and I had read a couple books on tennis strategy. One by Billy Talbert, and I think one Tilden wrote, The Psychology of Tennis, something like that. It was a paperback I found in my husband's den."
Judie is on the edge of her chair. Being interviewed is a new experience and she is tentative. "So I started teaching, and what surprised me was that people were clamoring to learn. Last spring I turned down 10 whom I'd never even heard of. I was just out of the hospital and couldn't handle too much. I mean, total strangers. Oh, listen, excuse me—would you like some coffee?
"My philosophy might be a little different from the others, because I think people want to learn to play right now. A good pro will teach them strokes and tell them they'll get it together in five years, and maybe that's right. But some girls I know never play, they just take lessons. I try to get them to enjoy playing, from the start."