Shelley Susman grew up in a tennis family in La Jolla. Her mother, Karen Hantze Susman, won a singles title at Wimbledon in 1962 as well as several double titles alongside Billie Jean King. Her father, Rod Susman, was a top-seeded men’s player.
For Susman, now in her 40s, tennis played an important part of her childhood. By the age of 18, after winning a CIF championship as a student at La Jolla High School, Susman became the fourth ranked player in the country. And then an injury forced her to the sidelines. In the following years, she taught tennis and later moved to the United Kingdom. It was in England that she took on the tennis establishment, volleying for more public tennis courts and more youth tennis programs.
Susman's efforts were recognized this past September when the United States Professional Tennis Association awarded Susman a Star Award for her work to make tennis more accessible in England, for making an "indelible mark on [her] community through the sport of tennis."
Susman has returned to San Diego and teaches tennis at San Dieguito Tennis Club and Surf and Turf Tennis Club in Del Mar. She continues her work to gain more public access and awareness for the sport. Susman says she knows of only eight to ten public courts in the City of San Diego, the rest are all private courts that charge admission for access and fees for lessons.
"This is a national epidemic. There are so many variances and stages from what it was supposed to be. The worst stage is private sublets on public courts," writes Susman in an email. "San Diego Park and Recreation needs to standardize their practices to free usage. I hope to help with sponsorships and "Friends of the Park" stuff, [such as] washing courts and providing maintenance. Sure, pro-tennis is great, but not dominating all the courts to turn a profit so that people, even if they want to pay court usage, can't get a court."
Next week Susman will meet with a San Diego Park and Recreation official. During that meeting she hopes to put the ball in the city's court to establish more public access for the sport, similar access to sports such as basketball, soccer, and skateboarding.
"Other parts of our parks are not charged," says Susman during a phone interview. "You can go play basketball, skateboard for free, but as far as tennis goes, it seems as if there is a tennis tax."
For more information on Susman's efforts, email her at [email protected].