At the 1982 Pacific Southwest Tennis Championships in Los Angeles – won in straight sets by perennial favorite Jimmy Connors – an event volunteer named Barbara Estes graciously offered her time to support the historic event.
A recreational player in tennis who went on to take lessons at Van Nuys Sherman Oaks Park, Estes considered herself a “pretty decent park player” who traversed the coast to compete in and help organize local tennis tournaments.
“I had trophies galore!” she remembers, from a time when adult tournaments and charity events were plentiful. But in 1982, as a volunteer on the grounds and in the office of the Pac Southwest, Estes could never have known it was the beginning of nearly four full decades in the world of Southern California tennis.
In February, Estes announced her retirement from the Southern California Tennis Association, where she has been a fixture since 1985. After serving as an usher at the Olympics for both tennis and gymnastics (“We did everything we could possibly do at the Olympics. We thought it may never come back in our lifetime,” she says), Estes accepted a job offer from Carol Schneider, at that time a Rankings Coordinator in the SCTA office.
Entering stats and information on senior and junior tournaments, and all correspondence related to player rankings, Estes is quick to point out that, “at the very beginning, everything was done by hand.” When computer data entry became mainstream, “I had two floppy disks for every division,” she says.
But the annual highlight for Estes and her colleagues was the Los Angeles Open, a top level Men’s event that brought the best talent in the world right to her backyard. While shuttling volunteers back and forth to a local Volvo dealership to acquire the event’s fleet of complimentary cars, Estes regularly brushed shoulders with the world’s top players. She recalls then 19-year old Swedish Olympic gold medalist Stefan Edberg fondly, saying, “he was delightful. One of the more polite young men.
“I bet we ran across all of (the top male players) that you can think of. We’d have seen them all, all of those guys – McEnroe, Agassi, Borg. We even saw (SCTA Junior Tennis Director) Trevor Kronemann play in doubles!”
The L.A. Open also brought a star-studded audience to the Will Call window, where Estes later held court until the tournament’s final event in 2012. Fans like The Tonight Show’s Johnny Carson and ballplayers Steve Garvey and Ron Cey came to Estes for their premium seats. Even one celebrity once complained his box seats were obstructed by a pole. “Don’t bat your eyes at me,” she told him. “You’ve got good seats!”
Today, most local tennis players have engaged Barbara Estes through junior tennis, registering at tournament desks and calling the SCTA office with points and ranking questions.
“I love working with the kids and seeing them grow,” she says glowingly. “Watching the little kids like (current ATP pro) Steve Johnson walk up to the desk, and then they grow up and become college players, or coaches, or moms and dads.”
Estes even recalls a little girl who came to a tournament desk and proudly announced, “Hi, my name is Tiffany Mai and I’m here to sign in.” She then reminds that Mai is a colleague today, a Tennis Service Representative in the same SCTA office. “Look where she is now,” Estes says with pride.
Though she gives a somewhat quizzical look when asked what she’ll do after tennis, there will be opportunity for friends and relaxation, playing a little more bridge to fill a lot more spare time. While always a member of the SCTA family, she will miss the day-to-day that has kept her busy for over 30 years.
“Working,” she says, “has always been more fun than housework.”