A love affair with tennis

Instructor: Shantha Chandra has shared her enthusiasm for the sport with hundreds of Howard County children and adults.

Howard At Play

December 07, 2003|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

To appreciate just how much tennis means to Shantha Chandra, you need to hear the resident of Columbia's River Hill village tell about the day she delivered her third daughter.

First, she played singles.

She won the only set she played, 6-1.

Then she went to the hospital for the birth of Anita, now a Johns Hopkins University doctoral candidate.

"I told my doctor I had a 9:30 match with friends and that I wanted to play it," Chandra said last week, recalling that day in Durham, N.C. "I thought there would be time, and I said that if anything happened, I would be right outside the [Duke University] medical center. He said it was OK.

"I won that set but still lost, because I had to leave."

A couple of weeks ago, Chandra was the surprised recipient of a Lifetime Service Award presented by the United States Tennis Association's Mid-Atlantic Section during a fete in Bethesda. The county Department of Recreation and Parks was honored as the Mid-Atlantic Organization of the Year at the same affair.

Chandra, who gave her age as "60-plus," and the rec department have traveled hand-in-glove in recent years.

Since 1998, she has introduced the sport to hundreds of Howard County children, some as young as 5 and 6, through rec department classes and summer camps. She also teaches adults.

In fact, said Mark Pendleton, a sports supervisor for the rec department, she has helped the agency's tennis program grow significantly since, new in town, she applied for a job and he hired her.

"I'd say the classes we've offered since she was hired have tripled, mostly because of her energy," Pendleton said. "She's gained quite a following, and we see demand increasing."

Even though someone else nominated Chandra for the award, Pendleton said, he was lavish in praising her work. She has become, he said, the most active of the three or four regulars who teach tennis for the department.

"She's very enthusiastic about tennis," he said. "She really enjoys working with children, as well as adults, and it's easy to see. I've been here for 18 years, and she's probably the best instructor in any sport we offer that I've seen."

Chandra, a biologist by training, came to Howard County in March 1998, when her husband, Jagdish, a research mathematician, accepted a professorship at George Washington University. They traveled north after 27 years in North Carolina, where Jagdish Chandra was on the faculty at Duke University and she worked at Duke's high-energy physics laboratory.

Now, from April until cold weather in late November, Chandra is a regular on county-owned courts at Centennial and Cedar Lane parks. The rest of the year, she said, she devotes mostly to travel and keeping track of family.

Her "lifetime service" to tennis took root during her days as a young mother in Durham, where she took up the sport, having grown up in India in a family that relished badminton and table tennis. She and her husband came to the United States originally when he won a Fulbright Fellowship for study that led to a doctorate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

She recalled playing tennis regularly against Duke faculty members.

"I competed a lot there," she said, before developing cartilage problems in a knee. "The doctors told me to either give up my knee or start teaching rather than playing," she said. "So, I did."

Tennis is a family activity - except, she said, for her husband: All three of their daughters played for high school teams, and she has relatives in New York who play, as well. Her middle daughter, now a lawyer in New York, competed for Haverford College, near Philadelphia.

"Every kid I come across, I try to get [to] play tennis," she said. "The earlier, the better. They can go on to other sports later, but the tennis will stick by them. It's a lifetime sport. ... For me, tennis is a fun thing. I like it for the physical fitness, as well as a social thing."

Locally, in addition to "regular" classes, Chandra started and still leads classes aimed particularly at young mothers, something she relates to strongly, given her history in Durham.

She proudly points out that some of the moms she has taught locally have become players in USTA's league tennis program and that a few of her young charges locally have begun to surface on county high school teams.

Chandra also is a fan of the game at its highest level.

Next year, she is planning to complete a personal Grand Slam by attending her first Australian Open. She has witnessed the French Open, several Wimbledons and "many U.S. Opens," she said.

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