Re: 60s Pixies
I couldn't find her under "H" or "S."
MARKING AN ANNIVERSARY : LOVE OR TENNIS : 1962
Champion Followed Her Heart After Wimbledon
June 20, 1987
Los Angeles Times
SAN DIEGO — This summer, Karen Hantze Susman is not taking a sentimental journey to England. Instead, she will oversee the building of a new house in San Diego. Her
particular concern is with the construction of the tennis court.
Twenty-five years ago, Susman, then 19, did go to England. In 1962, she made herself at home at the All England Club, then called the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, where Wimbledon's center court was her particular concern.
It was there that Susman stormed to the women's singles title without losing a set.
When Wimbledon opens Monday, Susman will quietly celebrate the quarter-century anniversary of her achievement by watching the tournament on television with her husband, Rod.
"Rod suggested going to England for nostalgic reasons," she said, "but we decided it might interfere with building the new house."
Tennis has never interfered with Susman's personal life, so it is not surprising that her approach to this milestone anniversary is decidedly not nostalgic.
As her husband said: "Karen's attitude toward the game has always been that it's no big deal."
It's not as if she is snubbing any organized recognition. A trip to Wimbledon would be for her fulfillment alone, and she is not one to find fulfillment in the past.
"I don't think Karen is a sentimentalist," said Bud Collins, who covered Wimbledon as a
reporter for the Boston Globe when Susman competed and who for the last 15 years has covered the tournament for NBC Sports. "It would be unlike her to make a special trip and say, 'Here I am.' "
Susman has never sought the spotlight. In 1961, when her career was peaking, she rejected the counsel of others and got married. In 1963, the year after she won Wimbledon, she stopped playing to have a baby. In 1964, after a successful comeback, she stopped playing competitively altogether to help her husband start his insurance
"I had the experience of world-class competition," she said. "If it had been a career, I would have continued on . . . but there was no reason to in that era."
The 1987 Wimbledon women's singles champion will win almost $200,000, but Susman's victory at Wimbledon meant a trophy and nothing else. There was no prize money.
"Karen would be a millionaire in the game today," Collins said. "She was an attacking player, and she was very lovely. Endorsers would have been flocking to her."
With no money to be made by women in tennis, there was no such thing as a professional career. And there was no television coverage to turn Susman into the sweetheart of American tennis.
"It seems like an eternity ago," Susman said.
It was an age when a promising young female athlete such as Susman would stop playing for more than six months to work as a file clerk while her husband played for his college tennis team. Perhaps even stranger, it was an age when that same athlete could come back from such a layoff to win tennis' premier tournament.
"By winning Wimbledon, I proved my marriage wasn't a detrimental act," Susman said. "We had received a lot of criticism from the tennis community for getting married."
She met Rod Susman, a nationally ranked player, when they were teen-agers competing in East Coast tournaments. They were married in the fall of 1961 but had to struggle against criticism from the U.S. Lawn Tennis Assn.
"In that day and age, tennis was governed by a handful of politically powerful people who had control over young people's lives," Rod said. "And Karen is very independent."
"The people who advised me and helped me didn't think I would devote my time and energy to tennis after I got married," Karen said. "They didn't want to spend their time and money to nurture a rising young star who might not be dedicated and serious,"
But, in her mind, tennis was not a career. She had won Wimbledon in spite of the "distraction" of being married, so what else was there?
"I wasn't giving up money," she said. "I may have been giving up some ego activity, but that aspect of the game has never been important to me."
Today, Susman said, it would be possible for her to combine a tennis career and marriage because of the money involved. But, for a struggling young couple in the early 1960s,
traveling around the world on the tennis circuit was not a realistic life style.
"Then, if you were someone from my background and you fell in love, you got married," Karen said. "It was a natural thing for me to do. And I got married to be with Rod."
She realizes the irony of her successful doubles pairing with Billie Jean Moffitt King, who, though married in 1965, continued to pursue a full-time tennis career. Together,
first as Hantze and Moffitt, then as Susman and Moffitt, the two won the women's doubles titles at Wimbledon in 1961 and 1962 and the U.S. title in 1964.
"Billie and I are opposites as far as needs," Susman said. "She always had a vision of what she wanted the sport to be. It's why she continued on through the thin years."
While Susman was growing up in Pacific Beach, another San Diego girl, Maureen Connolly, won the first of her three straight Wimbledon titles. However, this geographical coincidence did not cause Susman to aspire to similar success.
"I always just enjoyed the game," she said. "When I was younger, I would much rather go hit the ball with someone than go hang out somewhere."
She played on courts in La Jolla, where she was noticed by Connolly's coach, Eleanor (Teach) Tennant, who began instructing her. Susman credits Les Stoefen at the La Jolla
Beach and Tennis Club with helping her develop an aggressive serve-and-volley style, rather than relying on the baseline game favored by women of her era.
"There was some stigma about being a female athlete then," Karen said. "Today, people know there might be a contract at the end of the rainbow and you might win $100,000. But (back) then, people would wonder why I was out there for three or four hours hitting the ball."
While a student at Mission Bay High School, Susman played in tournaments during the summer. In 1960, she won the junior title at Wimbledon and later earned a spot on the Wightman Cup team. Soon she was ranked No. 2 nationally and reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 1961, the first year she and Moffitt won the doubles title.
"I remember Karen as a very graceful player," Collins said. "But she was the scourge of the Wimbledon groundskeeper. She dragged her foot when she served and did a lot of damage to the grass courts. He thought she was a nice kid, but he was always glad to see her go."
A few months after the 1961 Wimbledon, Susman was married and moved to San Antonio. Rod was in his senior year at Trinity University. Though Karen enrolled in classes, there was no women's team at Trinity and Karen could not even teach because she would jeopardize her amateur standing. At a time when her game could have been peaking, she was working full-time as a file clerk to support herself and her husband.
"Her tennis was absolutely terrible from a competitive standpoint," Rod said. "From October to May, all she did was hit the ball for a couple of hours with me on Sundays."
"I didn't feel it was my year," Karen said. "But Rod encouraged me to try for Wimbledon."
Beginning in May, with Rod acting as coach, Karen played in pre-Wimbledon tournaments such as Manchester and the Queen's Club. She did nothing to indicate that her greatest success was forthcoming; she usually lost in the early rounds.
"But I could see her confidence coming on," Rod said.
Though Rod was also playing, he decided to focus his energies on his wife's game. He
thought she had a chance at the title.
"He was very instrumental in my success," Karen said. "I think I had a real advantage
having him right there."
In the opening round of Wimbledon, Moffitt knocked out top-seeded Margaret Smith. In
the quarterfinals, eighth-seeded Susman defeated fourth-seeded Renee Schuurman of
South Africa, 6-4, 6-4, and met England's Ann Haydon in the semifinals. Susman won, 8-6,
"Reaching the finals was a very pleasant surprise," Susman said.
On July 7, 1962, the day of the final, Rod woke up early and went downstairs in the hotel to get a cup of coffee. He hadn't slept well, and he wanted to wait as long as possible before waking Karen for her practice at the Queen's Club. At 8, he called their room and waited while the phone rang and rang. Finally, he went back upstairs to jostle her awake.
"She slept right through the ringing of the phone," he said. "And then she tried to talk me into skipping practice."
Despite his wife's casual approach to the championship, Rod was concerned. Her opponent in the final was Vera Sukova of Czechoslovakia, who had upset third-seeded Maria Bueno in the semifinals.
"She was an incredibly smart player," Rod said of Sukova, whose daughter Helena is the fifth seed in this year's tournament. "She had a soft touch and was an excellent tactician."
Karen got off to a strong start in the first set and won, 6-4. But she fell behind, 3-0, in the second. However, Sukova, who said she was playing on a twisted ankle, became
increasingly immobile in the 90-minute match.
At match point, the only point Susman clearly remembers, she had come up to the
net and hit a shot into a corner that she didn't expect Sukova to retrieve. In her excitement, she turned toward Rod in the stands. Somehow, Sukova retrieved the ball
and weakly returned it. Despite her awkward stance, Susman plopped the ball back over the net for match point.
"If she had lost that point, I would have had a heart attack," Rod said. "You never know
what turns a match around."
An hour after winning the singles title, Karen teamed up with Moffitt to win the doubles title.
"The title holds a lot more significance for me now," Susman said. "At the time, it was
fine, but it wasn't like, 'Oh my God, I won!' Now I realize how wonderful it was."
After the Wimbledon championship, she returned to San Diego. In 1963, she gave birth to her daughter, Shelley. In 1964, Susman decided to play the international circuit one last time and traveled with Rod to Italy, France and the Carribbean. Though she planned to retire from tennis, she had hoped to go out gracefully.
But a dispute with the USLTA prevented such an exit. Money was an issue, though not the big money at stake today. She believed she was to receive expenses for playing in the national championships at Forest Hills.
"Expenses at that time were $28 per day," Rod said. "I was just 24 and Karen was 21, and we didn't have any money of our own."
When Karen arrived in New York, she said she was told she wouldn't receive her money. Realizing that her first-round match against Margaret Smith was highly publicized and that ticket sales were doing well, Susman told the USLTA she wouldn't play unless she received her expense money. They refused to pay her and she refused to play, and she was subsequently suspended from USLTA-sanctioned tournaments. She does not recall the length of the suspension, but it would be 13 years before she played again on the national level.
"I was very hurt," Susman said. "It left a bad taste in my mouth for a long time."
She spent the next eight years in St. Louis, where Rod established an insurance business. She had little contact with tennis except through teaching.
In 1974, after they had returned to San Diego, Karen returned to tennis and played one season of World Team Tennis with the Los Angeles Strings.
"It took a lot of nerve and courage to get back into it," she said. "I didn't do it for the
glitter or the glamour, I just wanted to see if I could play."
She found she could and in 1977, at 35, decided to try the professional circuit, which had not existed when she was in her prime.
"The game had changed so much since I had played, I just wanted to experience current
tennis," she said. "At that age, a lot of people do things they never got to do when they
were younger, and what I wanted to experience more than anything else was professional tennis."
As part of that experience, the Susmans attended the Wimbledon centennial in 1977. Karen had not planned to go, but Rod and Shelley--a regionally ranked junior player at the time--encouraged her to make the trip.
"I have very fond memories of 1977," she said. "It (the honor ceremony for ex-Wimbledon champions) was a nice way to return."
Susman played in six to eight professional tournaments a year for three years and battled her way back as far as the third round of the U.S. Open.
"I was at peace with my game," she said. "I was enjoying it and putting in more of an effort than when I was 19 or 20."
Said Rod: "But even then it was a constant battle. She would get on a major circuit and
then call me and want to come home."
"I didn't enjoy traveling at all," Karen said. "I wanted to be at home."
That is exactly where she will be during Wimbledon '87, planning the sun exposure on her new tennis court.