By LUCY WORMALD
Local tennis legend Suma Ito-Sheehan played her final match for Queenstown Tennis Club (QTC) recently.
An unstoppable force, Ito-Sheehan, 57, won all 11 of her masters doubles matches at the Queen’s Birthday tournament held in Dunedin, ending her 29-year devotion to southern tennis on a high note before she emigrated to Australia last week.
‘‘It was a very good weekend,’’ she says.
Learning to ski at the age of four, Ito-Sheehan picked up a racket when she was 10, quickly falling in love with both sports.
‘‘We all — my parents and my brothers — [were] in the tennis club.
‘‘My dad wanted to have something the family could do together … tennis is convenient and, as you get older, everyone can play, so we could all do it together.’’
She became a tennis coach, and at 18 ranked no.2 in Japan for doubles, and sixth for singles.
Falling just shy of qualifying for Japan’s national team and then spending three months in hospital recovering from injury, Ito-Sheehan decided to change tack.
‘‘I’d been coaching a lot, but I just couldn’t win the tournaments as much, so I almost gave up.’’
Winter-hopping after a season ski instructing in Japan, she came to Queenstown in 1993 keen to work up Coronet Peak, but instead went to English school.
She hired out the tennis courts in the Queenstown Gardens, finding the sport a way to overcome language barriers and connect with people in her new home.
‘‘I started getting confidence back … I wanted to improve my English … I’m very lucky to have played tennis because it started communication, and laughing with people, and drinking beer together.’’
Encouraged to join QTC, she soon took out her first club championship title.
Over the next 20 years, Ito-Sheehan won nine Queenstown titles and two Otago championships, and opened her own business, Suma’s Sushi.
The highlight of her time in the QTC community ‘‘is the feeling right now’’, she says.
‘‘Half my life is the tennis club and I always wanted to help in the tennis club community more … because members of the tennis club always helped me.
‘‘Now I’m older and my kids are gone, there’s the time to help the club.’’
Heading over the ditch to join her Aussie husband — ‘‘he went already, I wanted to stay and play the tennis tournament’’ — Ito-Sheehan says she’s sad to close one chapter, but
excited to open another.
‘‘I’ll keep playing tennis; maybe even play more because it’ll be warmer.’’
To remind her of her Queenstown tennis career, she has a scrapbook, filled with newspaper clippings about her successes.
‘‘One day I’ll want to look back, so now I’ve got a file I can pass around and laugh with people at younger photos [of myself] …’’