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Tennis pro and court designer Robert Davis inducted into USPTA Hall of Fame

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July 19th, 2016
Robert Davis, pictured in the den at his home at Riderwood, has shared his love of tennis with his neighbors by giving lessons and restringing rackets.

Robert Davis, pictured in the den at his home at Riderwood, has shared his love of tennis with his neighbors by giving lessons and restringing rackets.

Robert Davis first discovered tennis as a high school student in Oklahoma. He was taking a biology class that he didn’t enjoy, so he dropped it and enrolled in a tennis class. He really liked the game, started playing after school with classmates, and went on to letter in tennis for two years. Little did he know at that time that dropping that biology course would have such a significant impact on his life. 

Robert went on to become a United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) Master Tennis Professional, and at the age of 95, he was recently inducted into the USPTA/Mid-Atlantic Division Hall of Fame for a lifetime of playing, teaching, and growing the game. His induction took place in March in a ceremony at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md.

Life achievement

 “I’ve been a certified member of USPTA since 1972, and this is a great honor,” Robert says. 

“It was extra special that my eldest son Phil served as my presenter, and I received the plaque from our national CEO, John Embree.”

After graduating from high school, Robert studied electrical engineering at the University of Oklahoma, where he lettered in tennis for three years. 

He graduated college in 1942 and moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the Naval Research Laboratory on search radar, captured enemy radar, and countermeasures systems. For the last year of World War II, Robert was a U.S. Naval Reserve ensign with research engineering and additional military duties at lower pay. 

For the next 16 years, he worked in industry and academia. He was the project engineer heading the design team on missile instrumentation effort that developed the Army’s Jupiter IRBM (intermediate-range ballistic missile) nose-cone telemetry system. He worked at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab on Navy Transit navigational and experimental satellite systems and qualification design tests on the first three nuclear power supplies flown in space. 

Robert had a rewarding 50-year career as an electrical engineer in the aerospace industry, doing electronics, mechanical, and thermal work. For ten years, he was NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center’s deputy project manager for the development, flight, and operations of eight different satellite payloads flown on Orbiting Solar Observatories. He then transferred to the Multi-Mission Modular Spacecraft project—the spacecraft was designed for on-orbit servicing that was launched with a number of different types of payloads. 

After Robert retired, that group (under Frank Cepollina) went on and performed the five Hubble Telescope on-orbit repair missions, data from which have revolutionized astronomy and some concepts of physics.

Tennis on the side

While he was building his career, Robert always remained involved with tennis, in spite of a sometimes hectic schedule. He held amateur ranking in singles and doubles in the Greater Washington Area Tennis Association, Prince George’s County, and Maryland State Divisions 1944–1954. 

Over the years, he won numerous tennis awards, including the USPTA National Over 35 Player of the Year Award in 1981, USPTA Maryland Pro of the Year in 1987, and United States Tennis Association (USTA) Maryland Division Player of Year in 2000. 

In 2000, he received special recognition for outstanding service to the development of community tennis in Prince George’s County, MD–USTA Maryland District. Also in 2001, he received a proclamation from the Prince George’s County Council for his contributions to tennis in the area.

For decades, Robert operated TENNIS UNLIMITED, offering design, construction, and operations consulting for tennis facilities, along with tennis racket customization and restringing. He also gave private and group lessons to numerous junior players who would gain state, national, and international rankings, including Stacey Martin of the University of Tennessee and Jeri Ingram of the University of Maryland. Many of his students received collegiate tennis scholarships, and more than 20 became teaching professionals.

“I stress technique, conditioning, and the mental side of the game,” he says. “Being a good sportsman is important, too, and I believe in the old Aussie phrase ‘Let the racket speak.’”

Court designer

One of Robert’s pet projects is designing tennis courts. The location of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Prince George’s County was chosen in large part because of his efforts, and he served on the County’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for more than 12 years. He served as a technical consultant on the upgrade of ten asphalt courts and practice areas for the Rockville Campus of Montgomery College and for design of the six Har-Tru courts at the Country Club of Woodmore in Mitchellville. 

“There is nothing like creating new playing areas to ensure the game is enjoyed for years to come,” Robert says. “I’m particularly proud of the courts I helped to design for the NASA/Goddard Tennis Club in Rockville and the Cheverly Swim and Racquet Club.” 

Tennis at Riderwood

About ten years ago, Robert and his wife Ruth moved to Riderwood, where he shares his tennis expertise with his neighbors. Over the years, he has taught lessons to and restrung rackets for fellow residents and helped to improve the community’s tennis facilities. 

He also contributes to the sport by writing articles and tennis tips for national publications, and he is getting ready to publish a book entitled Developing a Private Tennis Facility, which details his experiences designing courts. 

Robert credits Riderwood, where he has daily opportunities to socialize, stay fit, and learn new things, with helping him remain youthful.

“My motto is: ‘Age is a mental attitude,’” he says. “I think by living at Riderwood, many people add ten years to their lives,” he says.

Ruth and Robert’s large family includes three children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

Though one of his sons and his daughter did take an interest in tennis, Robert says he never insisted that any of his kids play the sport. But he sings the praises of sports and encourages young people to pursue athletics.

“I learned as much from tennis and sports as I did from my formal education,” he says. “I strongly advocate that it would be good for [young people] to learn one individual sport and one group sport—they can learn a lot about themselves and their ability to work with people.”