As player and coach, tennis is the continuum in Hoffman's life

February 27, 2000|By JOHN STEADMAN

What Adrienne Goldberg Hoffman teaches on a tennis court is the embodiment of what she learned in competition, from observation and, of course, what her father told her as a little girl who grew up to be one of Maryland's most renowned female players.

She came from a quiet, hard-working background, a family that was refined and respected, a product of the public courts at Druid Hill and Clifton parks. The first tournament she entered as a child was at Suburban Country Club, and because the Goldbergs didn't own a car, she got there by streetcar.

"I was so impressed with Suburban Club, I thought I was in Hollywood," she recalled. "My father was so elated when my name was listed in the results, he bought 20 copies of the newspaper."

Ultimately, she played at Forest Hills in the nationals "eight or nine times." As a junior player, she was ranked fourth in the nation, and then, after being away from the game for almost eight years to devote herself to raising a family, she earned 18th position in the women's listings.

She asserted herself quickly in the comeback, establishing a reputation as a formidable player in Eastern and Southern competition.

This was all prelude to what she has been doing the past 30 years: teaching what seems to be half the tennis population of Baltimore.

Her greatest moment in the sport? Being selected for the Maccabean Games and walking into that packed stadium at Tel Aviv in 1961.

"I was 31 years old then, the first woman tennis player ever picked, and reached the finals," she says. "Thirty-three countries were represented. To hear our national anthem was a moving experience, one I will never forget."

Her first trip to Forest Hills was beset with complications. Her invitation never arrived in the mail, but Hoffman had gone with her parents and sister Judy on a short visit, just to be in the crowd and view the proceedings. A Philadelphia sportswriter saw her and inquired how she had fared in the first round.

"I didn't know what he was talking about," she recalled. "Then he told me my name was on the pairing board. And there it was, only I defaulted by not being there at the appointed time. I found the girl I was supposed to meet, Ann Gray, and she agreed to forget the default and play anyhow, which was quite gracious. The officials approved. But I had to borrow a racket, dress, socks and shoes. What a way to start at Forest Hills. I lost but wasn't disappointed."

In the process, she probably set some kind of a record in playing Forest Hills in a debut match with all borrowed equipment. At the time, only she and Toby Greenberg were young Jewish players of prominence, because most of the women, but not all, were from privileged and elitist backgrounds. And, yes, she met with anti-Semitic remarks in some settings but merely considered the source.

"I wanted to go to Rollins College or the University of Miami for tennis, but in those days they didn't give women scholarships for sports. Instead, I won an academic scholarship to Goucher, where they didn't have a tennis team. Yet after I announced I was getting married, the scholarship was taken away, and I had to pay my remaining tuition."

Still, no regrets or hard feelings. There was a quiet tenacity to the way she met the challenges, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. At Western High, she had been a brilliant student, plus an undefeated No. 1 player.

Hoffman can't say enough good things about Pam Shriver and what she has achieved.

"Pam is very bright and has done much for the game in so many ways," she said. "I can tell you from firsthand observation, she is beloved in England."

In her teaching schedule at the Greenspring Racquet Club, she coaches women, most inexperienced, and brings them along to play and enjoy the game.

"I'd describe what I do as a type of teaching -- no gimmicks or mechanical tricks. I preach to `play within yourself,' to use your head, and to use whatever enables you to win. I've seen players make beautiful shots in practice, maybe hitting 15 great volleys, but then when the scoring starts, they're lucky to hit seven or eight."

Many of the neophytes she introduced to the sport tell her that for the first time they are doing something for themselves, learning the game and making friends within the group.

She is troubled upon seeing too many parents putting pressure on their children to excel.

"I like to think what my father told me as a child carries so much merit," and quickly explains: "He always said, `Never let the boundaries of the court be your boundaries for life.' "

Hoffman has an engaging personality, is in extraordinary physical condition, and only rarely talks about the past.

She will talk, only when prompted, about how it was to face the likes of Maureen "Little Mo" Connolly, Doris Hart, Laura Lou Jahn, Beverly Baker, Nancy Chaffee and Doris Newcomer.

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