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Hometown Hero Gets Namesake Honors

September 4, 2014 03:27 PM
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By Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern

(Originally published in USTA Southern insert into Tennis magazine, August/September 2014)

If you don’t know who Jaime Kaplan is, this list will introduce you to the leading lady of Macon, Ga., tennis.

• She broke the gender barrier for ball kids at a Macon pro tournament 43 years ago.

• After graduating from Macon’s Stratford Academy in 1979, she spent the next 10 years playing in college and then on the WTA Tour. • She was named the 2014 PTR Jim Verdieck High School Coach of the Year.

• And she has a local tennis center named after her – at her alma mater, Stratford Academy.

With professional tennis becoming a regular attraction in this central Georgia city, it was fitting that the Jaime Kaplan Tennis Center was chosen in 2013 to host the first pro tournament in Macon in more than four decades. Now growing in prize money and prominence, the $50,000 USTA Tennis Classic of Macon, scheduled to be played Oct. 20-26, attracts the usual brand of professional tennis players with world-class potential, most ranging from No. 80-150 in the world. While there are other USTA Pro Circuit tournaments for women, none are named for a former touring pro.

Kaplan’s prominence cuts across many of the connecting fibers of Macon tennis. She was 9 when she began playing and was soon considered a blazing talent. A 1971 photo of ball persons – kids, really – in The Macon Telegraph featured all boys but for one girl: Kaplan.

“The newspaper caption called me a ‘breakthrough for women’s lib’,” she said with a laugh during an interview at the tennis center that bears her name on the campus of Stratford Academy. Reminiscing about being a ball girl and spectator years ago, she said, “I couldn’t watch enough. I was just all in. … I wanted to be a tennis pro since the first time I picked up a racquet. Some kids want to be a doctor or a lawyer. There was never a question in my mind.” Soon, there was no question in anyone else’s mind, either. Kaplan reached junior rankings as high as No. 1 in the state, No. 2 in the South, and No. 18 in the country. With an undefeated record at Stratford of 156-0 in singles and doubles, she won five state titles and went on to play at the University of Georgia and Florida State University. Then, for the next six years, she competed on the WTA Tour, playing Wimbledon five times, the US Open and the French Open four times each, and the Australian Open once.

When a knee injury forced her retirement in 1989, she returned home to Macon and Stratford where, in 2010, she was diagnosed with a rare form of acute myeloid leukemia. After three rounds of chemo and a bone marrow transplant, she returned to Stratford as Head Tennis Coach and Major Gifts Coordinator. And it is there, in October, that some of the more accomplished women in the sport will walk under a 10-foot archway proclaiming “The Jaime Kaplan Tennis Center” to vie for $50,000 in prize money. “It’s such an honor to be playing this tournament at a facility named after Jaime, one of Macon’s own,” said Eric Hayes, tournament director as well as men’s and women’s head tennis coach at Mercer University.

Kaplan is simply happy to see the impact the tournament has had in Macon – from USTA League volunteers to families housing players to the top-shelf food provided by the local tennis community. As Kaplan said with a smile, “I love what they are doing here in Macon to promote tennis.”

 

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