Newport, RI, November 2, 2003: Warm breezes greeted the 12 entrants in the 2003 Anne Boleyn Memorial Singles Handicap at the National Tennis Club. 

Left to right, back row: Audrey Buryn, Pat Homer, Leslie Willard, Jane Lippincott, Jennie Stevenson, Melissa Grassi, pro Josh Bainton.  First row, left to right: Chillie Bernstein, Phoebe Livingston, Emily Boenning, Sheila Reilly.  Not pictured: Brenda Sabbag Nardolillo, Christina Causeway.

Ed Hughes, a future USCTA president but still new to the game in 1984, wanted to do something to invite more women to participate in the game.  His idea: a handicap tournament, so that players of all abilities would feel comfortable competing.

Ed was always known for a wry sense of humor.  The apocryphal story of Anne Boleyn being beheaded as Henry was at a tennis match may not be true, but there is evidence to suggest that she was betting on a game of tennis when she was arrested and taken to the Tower.  Ed thought it was a fun connection with the game’s history, and a way to show the court tennis world “you’ve come a long way, baby”  (though the latter phrase might now be hopelessly outdated and non-PC …).

For the first few years of this event, winners got genuine axes as trophies, with the metal heads beautifully metal-plated in gold and silver.  These distinctive trophies quickly became coveted awards.

This year, a permanent trophy was dedicated for this event, to honor Ed Hughes as a genuine and fervent supporter of women’s play, and keep alive the idea that women can make the cut.

The 12 players ranged from one month to 22 years of experience, eight from Newport and four DC players, but at the end of the weekend, it had come down to two, a Newport/DC match-up, Sheila Reilly vs. Melissa Grassi Munoz. 

Both were bye’d through to the second round.  Reilly had an incredible come-from-behind victory over Phoebe Livingston, one of a group of very talented Newport juniors, the product of Newport’s active junior development program.  With Reilly handicapped at owe 15 to Livingston’s plus 30, and being restricted to one serve and barred from the tambour, she saved possibly as many as 10 match points, to win on simultaneous match point in the 8 game pro-set, coming back from 2-6 down.  Reilly then defeated a three-time Anne Boleyn winner, Brenda Sabbag Nardolillo, to reach the final.

Sheila Reilly, loser by the slimmest of margins, still smiling.

Grassi-Munoz beat Newport member Emily Boenning, to reach a semi-final against Jane Lippincott, the best player in the draw and another former winner of this event.  Lippincott led throughout most of the match, where the players were never separated by more than three games, but Melissa pulled ahead when it mattered, at the end, winning 10-8.

The final on Sunday was another close match, testament to the good handicapping.  Very little separated the two finalists, and though Reilly held slight leads early in the 10-game pro set final, her modest owe 1/4 15 handicap helped Grassi Munoz stay close.  Finally Melissa pulled ahead to lead 9-7, yet Reilly wasn’t finished, bearing down with a good floor game (and a little luck!) to give the crowd on hand what they all expected anyway … a 9-all match.  Sheila, from the hazard end, created two fine chases and forced an error, and changed with a strong lead.  Winning both chases, leading 40-0, with four chances to close it out, it was Melissa’s turn to get tough, and she did, until it was all

Melissa Grassi, with the Anne Boleyn

Memorial Handicap trophy.

even, 9-all, 40-all, one point for the championship.  Sheila chose to let a ball fall for chase better than 5, and they changed ends.  Finally, it was a barely out of court ball struck by Reilly that gave Grassi Munoz the win by the slimmest of margins. 

The backdraw, for losers of the first and second round was won by Newport junior Phoebe Livingston, over Leslie Willard of DC.

Phoebe Livingston, 2003 Anne Boleyn Backdraw winner.

See the previous News story for the final draw for the 2003 Anne Boleyn Memorial Handicap, won by Melissa Grassi Munoz, and for the backdraw for the 2003 Anne Boleyn Memorial Handicap, won by Phoebe Livingston.

Thanks to everyone for helping to bring this event back on the calendar with such success, including pro’s Josh Bainton and Rich Smith, social hosts and food purveyors James and Sue Wermuth, Jennie Stevenson, Bert and Jane  Lippincott, Peter Cosel, Beth Winthrop, and Evelyn Clothier, for donating funds for tournaments shirts.

Leslie Willard of DC, the backdraw finalist.