By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer
RICHMOND– When she was 12 years old, Martha Beddingfield discovered tennis.
Before then, Beddingfield had been in love with golf and was a successful player in that sport at Hermitage Country Club.
Beddingfield said she liked tennis more than golf when she started to play.
“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. And I would be on that backboard for hours.”
Beddingfield improved her game until she won three city tournament singles titles and six city doubles championships
She also claimed three state doubles crowns and one Middle Atlantic doubles title.
Beddingfield played No. 1 singles and doubles for the University of Richmond’s women’s team when it captured the AIAW Division II 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 find success on the court.
That doesn’t surprise Sharon Dunsing, who was Beddingfield’s partner for five of the six city doubles championships and also at the University of Richmond.
“She was a natural athlete,” said Dunsing, who won two city singles titles. “Tennis was one of her many skills. She just had all the tools and could make everything fall into place.”
Beddingfield got her fundamentals from Hermitage Teaching Pro Pete Franklin and joined the Richmond Tennis Patrons Association (now Richmond Tennis Association) program for juniors, where she had plenty of competition from Lloyd Hatcher, Betty Baugh Harrison, Ann Grubbs, Becky Nierle and Margaret Talman.
Her game continued to improve under the coaching 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.
Beddingfield said that title was important to her.
“It included every public [large] school in the state,” said Beddingfield. “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 after her success in local events.
“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.”
Following a stint in Graz, Austria, Beddingfield returned to Richmond, where she enrolled at the University of Richmond.
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.
It was the university’s first national championship.
“We were a Division II school but we defeated every Division I school in Virginia, including U.Va., and Virginia Tech,” said Beddingfield.
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,” said Beddingfield.
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.
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.”
Beddingfield served as a teaching pro at CCV for four years.
In 1991, Beddingfield had shoulder surgery and didn’t play in the city again. Several foot surgeries kept her off the court.
Beddingfield said her parents encouraged her love of tennis. 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.
“My parents were wonderful in their support of me playing either golf or tennis,” said Beddingfield. “But there was never any type of push [to play tennis]. They just gave me every opportunity.”
Beddingfield said she still plays for fun.
“I will always love the game and am grateful for what the game has done for me,” said Beddingfield.