The Bakewell trophy is awarded by the University of Alberta to the year’s most outstanding female athlete, based on athletic prowess, leadership, character and academic ability. This year it went to a tennis player, not a basketball, volleyball, or hockey player! (Link to Bakewell trophy winners)
In 70 years (it was first awarded in 1948) just two tennis players have received the award–Kristina Sanjovic, age 24, received the award this year, and Bev (Richard) Spencer, age 71, received the award in 1966, 52 years ago.
I arranged a meeting with these two award-winning tennis stars. It was heart warming to see how much these two have in common, even though their university tennis days are over 50 years apart.
Kristina Sanjovic took time on Monday morning to meet at the Saville Tennis Centre before her summer class, and Bev Spencer took time before her regular Monday tennis game at the Royal Glenora Club. It was all smiles as their common background and characters made for easy conversation.
How they got into tennis
Both Kristina and Bev are Edmontonians (Kristina was born in Serbia but spent most of her life here) and were guided into tennis by their fathers. Bev’s father was an original member at the Royal Glenora Club, and quite a tennis player and overall athlete himself. She remembers the heavy wooden rackets, playing with her brothers, and the outdoor courts. Bev enrolled in Phys Ed at the University of Alberta, played tennis in the fall, then basketball and badminton. After graduating she taught Phys Ed in Edmonton High Schools for 30 years, retiring in 1999. Now she plays tennis at the Royal Glenora Club three days a week.
Kristina’s dad didn’t play tennis himself, but had a love of the game. They started out playing in the basement and then Kristina joined other juniors on the Michener courts. Kristina credits coach Dan James as a major influence on her development. At the U. of A., coached by Corey Stewart and then Russ Sluchinski, she led the Pandas tennis team to a national championship this year, with a 10-0 singles record, an 8-0 doubles record, and a combined 130-37 total games record this season.
Kristina will finish her degree in Sport, Recreation and Tourism after completing her practicum as a program coordinator at Foote Field in the fall. She hopes to work in sport management and dreams of opening a tennis club in northern Edmonton where she can share her passion for tennis in a friendly, social, informal and welcoming atmosphere.
What tennis has given her, Bev
Bev says emphatically that it is the people and the places that are most memorable, not the wins and the losses. She remembers the green water guns and ambushing her team mates during a water fight on the train to Winnipeg. It snowed so they had to play inside and drew lines for the court.
Bev: It is the people I have met through tennis that are most important and memorable. I have been going to Jasper every year for 30 years with tennis friends from the Royal Glenora Club. Every summer I meet up with my university tennis friends. This is very special. Through tennis, you learn about yourself, sometimes through struggles. I still get upset with myself when I don’t hit the ball well. Sometimes my competitiveness takes over and I have to remind myself about what is important.
What tennis has given her, Kristina
Kristina agrees. She notes even now, at the age of 24, that the wins and losses are not as important as what you learn about yourself and others, the skills you develop, and the opportunities that tennis provides. Kristina has earned scholarships, made friends, traveled, and now works as a coach. She has learned about teams, leadership, communication, problem solving, motivation, and how to win and lose. The mandatory 2-hour practices twice a week have given her a break from studies. Highlights were the times travelling with the team, winning the nationals, some of the big points that she faced, and captaining the team for three of her five years and two national championships.
Kristina: Tennis has given me something that I will have all of my life. Tennis has taught me to be more determined and how to accept losses. It has kept me fit and taught me a lot. I have traveled and met different people in different countries. Tennis is the bests sport for life. Look at Bev playing in her 70s.
So much in common
Believe it or not, Bev’s daughter (Nancy Spencer) who is a professor at the University of Alberta had taught Kristina a course–small world! And, Kristina had played doubles with Lane Richard, Bev’s nephew, now a tennis professional at the Royal Glenora Club.
While Bev is venturing off to Jasper this weekend with her tennis girlfriends, Kristina is preparing for the national competition in Montreal in August with her teammates. Both are still playing tennis a few times a week, with friends, and travelling.
The two agreed:
- That younger athletes should be encouraged to play multiple sports.
- That Edmonton needs more indoor tennis facilities. (I tried to convince them that they should work on this together. But “no dinero” they said). Many more people could enjoy and benefit from tennis if more facilities were available–wheelchair players, adults, seniors, youth. Managing scarce court time is a challenge for tennis professionals running clubs and it affects both the quality and the amount of participation.
- That tennis needs to be fun and social to attract and keep lifelong players. Tennis has inherent qualities that make it not fun–repetition, a technically difficult game, largely an individual game. Pickleball has appealing features that tennis could adopt. Anyone can go out the first day and have fun at pickleball, and joining play is easy and flexible.
Their advice to young tennis players
Kristina: Keep your focus on academics. At the end of the day, your schooling is of value. Also understand that winning and losing is not the end of the world. I didn’t need to take everything quite so seriously along the road. Enjoy the moment. The junior years go by quickly. Before you know it you are 18 and into the adult category.
Bev: Enjoy tennis. Friends are what is most important, and learning. Competition is good, but try to enjoy it as much as you can. Enjoy the different experiences that tennis offers, whether it is a game, a trip, or social time. It is not so much whether you win or lose, but how sport teaches you to be a good human being, including to your opponents, and to your team mates.
After she is finished her schooling in December, Kristina will play more for fun and enter tournaments as she likes, mostly in doubles. She will continue with her coaching certifications and teach. She is starting to play softball and will curl this winter. With her degree, she has many options–physiotherapy, occupational therapy, sport management, coaching, and other possibilities.
Bev is not ready to quit tennis yet. She will continue her adventures with her tennis friends and playing at the Royal Glenora several times each week. She is also enjoying pickleball on occasion, yoga, and other sporting activities.
Bev: I admire the Williams sisters for their perseverance. Sometimes I don’t admire their antics on the court, but for what they have overcome and what they have achieved, I admire them as female athletes.
Kristina and Bev: I admire Roger Federer, for a variety of reasons! I (Kristina) follow him on Twitter. He is a great role model for tennis from many perspectives–charity work, personal life, demeanor on court, style and flair. Compared to Connors and McEnroe who were all about antics (and entertaining), Federer is a class act and true leader for the sport.
Thank you Kristina and Bev for your leadership in tennis, past, present and future.
You can reach Kristina for lessons by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can reach me, the author, at email@example.com. I will be taking Kristina up on her offer of a complimentary lesson, for sure.