Beddingfield Capitalized on Her Opportunities

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

Beddingfield Capitalized on Her Opportunities

When she was 12 years old, Martha Beddingfield discovered tennis. Or perhaps more precisely, it discovered her.

Before then, Beddingfield had been in love with golf, and was quite a successful little player in that sport at Hermitage Country Club.

“As soon as I picked up a tennis racquet, I never played golf again until probably my early 30s,” said Beddingfield.

“Once I was introduced to the game and saw it, they couldn’t pull me off the backboard at Hermitage. I played with anybody and everybody. Adults, pickup games. And I would be on that backboard for hours. You just do it because you love the game.

“I just loved it. I don’t know what else to say. It came so easy to me. I was lucky I guess.”

Beddingfield eventually improved her game to the point where she was good enough to win three city tournament singles titles and six city doubles championships. She also claimed three state doubles crowns and one Middle Atlantic doubles title.

In addition, Beddingfield played No. 1 singles and doubles for the University of Richmond’s women’s team when it captured the AIAW Division II (before women belonged in the NCAA) national championship in 1982.

For those achievements, and many more during her distinguished career, Beddingfield will be inducted into the Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame during a gala celebration and dinner at the Westwood Club on Oct. 28. Tickets are now on sale for the event at richmondtennis.org.

Once she switched from golf to tennis, it didn’t take long for Beddingfield to be successful on the court. That doesn’t surprise Sharon Dunsing, who was her partner for five of the six city doubles championship and also at the University of Richmond.

“She was a natural athlete,” said Dunsing, who won two city singles titles herself. “Tennis was one of her many skills.

“She was a very smart tennis player. Great doubles player. She just had all the tools and could make everything fall into place. She understood her opponent’s weaknesses. She was very fast and could figure out where she needed to be ahead of time, which gives you that extra step to be where you needed to be to hit the next ball.”

Beddingfield got her fundamentals from Hermitage pro Pete Franklin, and soon thereafter joined the Richmond Tennis Patrons Association (now Richmond Tennis Association) program for juniors, where she had plenty of competition from the likes of Lloyd Hatcher, Betty Baugh Harrison, Ann Grubbs, Becky Nierle and Margaret Talman.

Her game continued to improve under the tutelage of Fred Koechlein, the pro at the Country Club of Virginia, and she won the Virginia High School League Group AAA singles title as a sophomore at J.R. Tucker.

“That was a big win for me, and I say that because [it included] every public [large] school in the state,” said Beddingfield. “The top division. I beat Maryse Hotchkiss, a senior, in the semifinals and that was a big upset win for me.”

Beddingfield began to play in sectional and national tournaments, thanks to her success on the court during local events.

Martha Beddingfield with Arthur Ashe at Byrd Park

“It gave me that exposure that I needed to get better,” said Beddingfield, now 60 and enjoying retirement.

Beddingfield’s career took another turn when she went to Florida after high school to visit her grandmother and rest her ailing shoulder.

“I was introduced to a man named Mike DePalmer Sr.,” she said. “He introduced me to someone no one in Richmond knew at the time, Nick Bollettieri. I lived in a house with four other tennis players who were working with Bollettieri. That was the beginning of the [Bollettieri] Tennis Academy.

“That gave me the opportunity again to see great coaching and then the opportunity to go over to Austria and play for a club.”

Following a stint in Graz, Austria, Beddingfield – after a chance to play on the red clay of Europe for a while — returned to Richmond, where she enrolled at the University of Richmond.

“I was very grateful to go to the University of Richmond on a full tennis scholarship,” she said.

During her junior season in 1982, the Spiders won the AIAW, Division II national championship under coach Eric O’Neill, and Beddingfield was named an All-American. But she was just as proud of something else that happened that season.

“We were a Division II school but we defeated every Division I school in Virginia, including U.Va., and Virginia Tech,” she said. “We had a bunch of good singles players and good doubles players. We had some great walk-ons, some great athletes. They were just attracted to the school because we didn’t have many players on scholarship.”

Beddingfield added the Middle Atlantic Women’s Division I Collegiate Open singles title to her harvest before winning the city tournament in 1985 when she was 29 years old.

“The city tournament was such a big deal back then, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to play in more of them,” she said. “But I was out of town. In Florida. In Austria. But that first win, I was so proud of having won the city championship.”

After Dunsing claimed the next two city titles, and Keri Nimitz won in 1988, Beddingfield annexed the crown in 1989-90. She was ranked No. 1 in the state in singles and doubles in 1989 at 32. Not too shabby for an “old lady.”

She and Dunsing dominated the city doubles competition during that stretch, winning from 1987-90.

“We were friends, so we knew each other and trusted each other,” said Dunsing. “Our styles just clicked. They were actually pretty similar, which is a little unusual. I think it was sort of a comfort level, knowing we were on the same page, communicating with each other.

“She’s just an easy player to play with. Competitive, but very fair. We just always had fun, which helps with your game.”

Beddingfield served as a teaching pro at CCV for four years when she also worked with Hal Burrows, who was the head pro then.

In 1991, Beddingfield had shoulder surgery and didn’t play in the city again.

Later, several foot surgeries kept her off the court, and now she only plays “hit and giggle tennis,” she said.

Two people who were most prominent in Beddingfield’s life and success were her parents, June and Joe. Her mother, June, became very involved with the RTPA, serving as vice-president and treasurer, while directing a number of junior tournaments for two decades.

June passed away in 2005, and her dad, Joe, resides in an assisted living facility.

“I miss her every day,” said Beddingfield. “My parents were wonderful in their support of me playing either golf or tennis. I had already played in golf tournaments before I ever played tennis. At the age of nine, I was playing in novice golf tournaments around the city.

“But there was never any type of push [to play tennis]. They just gave me every opportunity.”

Opportunities in tennis were seemingly always available for Beddingfield, and the native Richmonder took advantage of them to the fullest extent during a marvelous career.

“I will always love the game and am grateful for what the game has done for me,” she said.

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