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Friendships lure former UMass tennis coach Judy Dixon back onto court

  • Former UMass tennis coach Judy Dixon was back on a competitive tennis court recently competing in the Kitty Godfree Cup in Umag, Croatia. GAZETTE STAFF/FILE

  • Former UMass tennis coach Judy Dixon was back on a competitive tennis court recently competing in the Kitty Godfree Cup in Umag, Croatia. GAZETTE STAFF/FILE



Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Only a few months after retiring from UMass, Judy Dixon was back on a competitive tennis court.

The 25-year coach of the UMass men’s and women’s tennis programs didn’t get a chance to play many competitive matches during her tenure in Amherst. She would represent New England in the USTA National Women's Intersectional Team Event, but that was the extend of her playing career while coaching the Minutemen and Minutewomen.

She had wanted to return to action at a lower-level local tournament but was convinced to instead compete in the Super-Seniors World Individual Championships last October in Lake Nona, Florida, at the USTA training facility.

“I had no idea what to expect because you’re certainly not match tough,” Dixon said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I had no preconceived idea of how this would go or whether I would like it.”

It turned out Dixon didn’t have to worry too much, advancing to the quarterfinals in singles and the final in doubles play. She played a few more team events before registering for the USTA National Clay Court Championships, once again reaching the finals in doubles.

After finding success in her first year, Dixon applied to be part of the United States team at the Kitty Godfree Cup, the international team tournament event for the women’s over-65 division, in Umag, Croatia. At no point did the 69-year-old expect to make the team, she said, but she was “honored and surprised” to get the call to represent the country.

Although none of her four doubles matches proved to be the deciding point, Dixon went 3-1 in Croatia to help the U.S. to the gold medal. Dixon said she enjoyed the experience, but wasn’t overwhelmed except for two moments.

“I didn’t think it was going to affect me very much,” Dixon said. “Nothing really got to me until there was an opening ceremony and I was one of the four people asked to carry the flag in. ... Then at the closing ceremony when we were presented the gold medal, we went out on the court and they took our picture holding the trophy and gave us the gold medal and then they played national anthem, and that got me more than anything. It sort of hit me that you’re playing for your country.”

The moment was made sweeter by her partner in Croatia on the U.S. team, Victoria McEvoy. The two are childhood friends who played doubles together throughout their teenage years before losing touch after they went to college. They reconnected 10 years ago at a tournament and realized both ended up in Massachusetts — Dixon in Amherst with UMass and McEvoy as a doctor in Cambridge.

After more than 40 years apart, the bond was still strong in Croatia as the duo rolled to its three wins while dropping a combined seven games. Dixon said she and McEvoy fell into the same habits as before when they played doubles as kids when they reconnected on the court.

“When you grow up with somebody like that, you sort of still think even though I’m (11) days older than she is, we still think that we’re 13 or 14 or 15,” Dixon said. “We still feel that way even though we’re older. We know each other really well and it makes everything really easy. The captain of the team said to us one day ‘You guys are like an old shoe, you just fit.’”

Friendships like the one she has with McEvoy are a major reason why Dixon is still playing competitive tennis on a more regular basis. She said the camaraderie built at senior events is much stronger than the connections at the junior level, which makes the sport more enjoyable.

“I still love the game and I do love practicing, so practicing with a purpose made sense for me,” Dixon said. “Then also the fact I have many friends from different parts of the country that I wouldn’t see if I didn’t play. Seeing them once a year in the one tournament I did play, I felt like it would be really fun to be able to see them three or four times a year.

“These friendship networks, because they’re related to sport, they have something a little bit extra than just your friendship network at home. When you’re competing with people, you’re just digging a little bit deeper I think.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.