Catching Up With Tennis Great Elaine Mason

April 5, 2013

FRESNO, Calif. --- Elaine Mason has been an instrumental figure in the tennis community not only in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley, but on the United States and International level as well. This Saturday, Fig Garden Swim and Racquet Club will be holding a dedication to Elaine which begins at 5 p.m. with a social hour and welcoming starting at 6 p.m.

Here are just a handful of accomplishments that her friends, family and peers will be celebrating :

• 1956-1980 - Department Chair, Professor at Fresno State
• 1963 - Designed and patented the world's 1st children's tennis racquet (`The Shorty')
• 1971-1978 - Head Tennis Coach at Fresno State
• 1971 - USTA Merit Award for leadership in tennis
• 1974 - Author, "GLM of Tennis"
• 1996 - Inducted into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame
• 1998 - Northern California Tennis Hall of Fame
• 2010 - USTA Service Bowl Award
• 2002-2011 - Friendship Cup Captain, Austria
• 94 National USTA Championships, 36 time National USTA Finalist
• 11 Gold Slams • 14 World Championships
• 12 European Championships • 11 International Cup trips
• 2005-2008 - Undefeated consecutive World #1 ranking in Singles & Doubles How did you get started in playing tennis growing up?
Elaine Mason: I admired some older neighbors of mine growing up and I think that is what first interested me. The person who was coaching I was a teacher that I just thought the world of in high school. And back then they actually didn't let us start to play until we were sophomores and we were just a bunch of kids just hitting the ball around. Then the war years came along and we didn't play any tennis at all.

GB: When did you start playing competitively again?
Mason: Probably seven years or so after I retired I started playing up in northern California and then that got to the point that there were so few that I thought I'd play down in southern California and I probably did that for about five or six years. One of my friends said `why don't you play internationally?' And I said, I don't know anything about that. I always thought the national tournaments were for those like Billy Jean King and the Navratilovas of tennis. So I went to my first national tournament in Baton Rouge, La. and that caught my interest. So then I made an effort to go to the four major tournaments each year. I was surprised that I was able to get better and I was at the age of 64 then and I just thought it would be fun to be a participant and enjoy the people. I ended up playing some really good players in the 64's so I thought, `Well I'll be in the 65's soon and wouldn't you know every one of them went with me.' Each year there was something that I could work on and so I could come back and I kept getting better, much to my surprise.

GB: What was your favorite win of your career?
Mason: Probably the best win was when I defeated the lady Betty Pratt who was one of the former Wimbledon and big time players in Baton Rouge, La. Tears just came to my eyes when I won that match because I couldn't believe that I won. We went three hard sets and that was a real achievement at that point.

GB: What was your favorite place that you got to travel because of tennis?
Mason: The biggest surprise to me was Turkey because I didn't think that they would have such a nice facility. They had probably as many courts as any place that I have ever been and everything was all right there so you didn't have to go far to get anything. It was right on the Mediterranean and was beautiful.

GB: How did you get to travel so much?
Mason: When you get on Cup teams, you have to be in the top four in your age group, the USTA puts you on a team and they pay all of your expenses to go to wherever they are having the competition and you play other countries. Then they have the World Championships back to back with the Cup events to keep the best players in the world there so it was very convenient. I have been to Cape Town, South Africa, Melbourne and Perth, Australia, Turkey, Vienna, Austria, England and Barcelona, Spain. It's been eleven beautiful trips. And I really didn't know about any of this and it turned out to be the amazing thing.

GB: Talk about the `Shorty' racket that you invented...
Mason: When I was first teaching in Modesto, I was teaching maybe 35 to 40 young ladies in high school. They could stand and drop the ball and hit it, but as soon as they would start to run that adjustment became a problem and they'd just start trying to fly swat the ball. So I thought maybe if children could learn how to play, then maybe they could learn to be the adjustments by high school. It took from 1947, when I first started teaching until 1963 for the first racket to be made. So basically by making the racket shorter it brought the head of it within one arm's length. So the racket was made in Japan, but it didn't sell much for about 20 years. I had a patent on it and I'd go to the major national conventions and put it on the major brands table like Spalding and Wilson but none of them were quite interested in making them. That was until the interest came from the children and the big companies had the ability to make the cutesy rackets and make so many of them. I ended up not worrying about the patent and just let them make the rackets that are still in use today, so I did end up coming up with the concept for them.

GB: Talk about getting to sit in the President's box at the US Open...
Mason: Yes, many times. If you win a gold slam, which means you win on all four surfaces within the same year, they invite you to receive an award and then get sit in the box which is just a treat. It is a lovely box area with food and drinks and a great view of tennis. Usually the presidents and some past presidents (of USTA) were there and several of the top players' parents would be there. The McEnroe parents were always there.

GB: Who are your favorite players in today's game?
Mason: (Roger) Federer will always be my favorite. (John) Isner is close. I like him. Among the women.. I like (Caroline) Wozniaki, Maria Sharapova, and Ana Ivanovic.

GB: Do you have a favorite Grand Slam?
Mason: I probably like Wimbledon still. I had the pleasure of going with Lord and Lady Weatherill and it was a pretty special time.

GB: Why is the Valley so special?
Mason: It has a lot of advantages actually. We have a lot of good weather. We have tremendous vegetables and fruit and then we are so close to the mountains, we are close to the coast and we have options the really quite great. It's a great place to be.

GB: What is the best advice that you can give to children and even adults that want to get into tennis?
Mason: Be patient (laughs). You have to be patient. Any time someone is beginning, I really urge them to take some lessons or be around someone who knows how to stroke so that you can learn the concept of the complete stroke.