Throughout Women’s History Month in March, USTA MAS will be profiling the work of women who are making a difference today in tennis communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic. Rachel Rhoney is assistant director at the Mary and Frances Youth Center in Richmond, Va. and works closely with Lobs & Lessons, which teaches kids life skills through fun tennis programming.
What is your tennis background? When did you start playing?
I began playing tennis at age 7 in North Carolina. I started out playing at a local YMCA after school program and eventually trained locally with my uncle who is a professional coach. My father and I often went out to play tennis on the weekends and went on many weekend road trips to play in junior tournaments. I played on my high school team and was lucky enough to receive a full scholarship to play at a Division I program, the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
Who or what inspired you to get involved in tennis?
I owe my involvement in tennis and love of the game to my father. He sacrificed a lot of time and money to allow me to train and play in tournaments throughout my junior years so that I had the opportunity to eventually go on to play in college. He taught himself to play tennis so that he could help me train more often.
Which professional player has been most inspirational for you?
When I was younger, my uncle was coaching Chanda Rubin. I remember watching some of their training sessions and going to the Family Circle Cup when it was in Hilton Head Island, S.C. to see her compete. Chanda’s work ethic coupled with her personality really motivated me as a young player to work hard for what I wanted. I also admired Monica Seles for her intensity and passion on the court, she fought for every point.
What advice do you have for a young girl who has recently started playing tennis?
For any of my young female players that are starting out in tennis, we talk a lot about confidence and practicing with intention. Tennis is a great sport for celebrating our individual personalities and skillsets, and building a community of inclusiveness for these young girls is important to getting and keeping them in the game.
Historically, tennis has led the way among sports by awarding equal prize money and giving exposure to female athletes in addition to male athletes. How else do you see tennis as a leader in gender equity?
I think tennis is ahead of the game compared to most other sports in terms of giving equal prize money and exposure to female athletes. USTA is continuing to promote women in sport by promoting programs and play days called Girls Rule the Court. These small transitions to bring awareness to getting and keeping girls in the sport will hopefully lead to a bigger wave of women coaches and players in tennis down the road.