Santa Monica Tennis Mom Hurdles Obstacles to Grow Game

Court at John Muir Elementary, Santa Monica.

It’s got the Pier, the Promenade, and a beautiful beachfront. But some believe Santa Monica lacks the kind of landscape for budding tennis players that produces future stars and professional champions. As Southern California continues to nurture homegrown talent, those who live in Santa Monica seek structured opportunities that are both affordable and beneficial to young players.

Without question, the talent warrants a new investment in city facilities and the building of a prominent tennis community of adults and children alike. One individual seeking to lead the effort is Debbie Mahdessian, a Santa Monica native and mother of a tennis family, who sees the growth of the game in other locales and hopes to bring that structure to Santa Monica.

“I’d like to see an end product that builds community,” Mahdessian says. “One that fills a void. The South Bay feels like a (tennis) community. Here in Santa Monica, it feels so ready to be that, too.”

Mahdessian found a budding opportunity in junior team tennis, even though it required a commute north to Pacific Palisades. Last winter, she served as Team Tennis Coordinator at Riviera Tennis Club in Pacific Palisades and attracted nearly 100 players to the initiative. From the pool of athletes, four teams qualified to compete at the Sectional Championship level. The end result was a first, second, and third place team in various divisions.

It was the program’s inaugural season.

“We have the coaches, and we have the kids,” Mahdessian says. “We have everything.”

What’s missing is the local infrastructure. There are few well-maintained city courts in Santa Monica, according to Mahdessian. Kids practice privately with coaches – sometimes five days per week – often because more communal, affordable options rarely exist without crossing city lines.

“Some kids take five private lessons a week,” she says. “That’s crazy, even if you can afford it.”

The better option may be the further development of local teams and practice groups that reflect where the game of tennis is headed – social first, competitive second. Social components are lost with one-on-one instruction, and the team game builds both comradery and community pride.

The effort, though, can only thrive with the support of the city and the community at large. Public courts, like those at Santa Monica High School, are either in high demand or a state of disrepair, or both. (The city website lists 12 free public courts spread throughout Santa Monica, plus seven more at the high school). Resurfacing, new nets, and ultimately illuminated courts are on Mahdessian’s wish list.

“Given the proper support,” she says, “Santa Monica tennis can go anywhere. The key is to build a community for kids and parents. It’s something I’m inordinately passionate about.”

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