Eleven years ago, Martha Downing was profiled on the Herald & Review sports page and was quoted: "I think I'm playing better every year. I'm smarter now."
The 2009 update: "I'm playing in more tournaments. I'm practicing a lot more."
The most successful woman tennis player in Decatur history will compete in eight or nine tournaments this year. She was selected for the international age 55 and older U.S. team for Maureen Connelly Cup competition in Mallorca, Spain, April 27 to May 2. And she is a candidate for the U.S. age 60 and older team that will compete in Australia in July.
Soon to be 60 (on April 1), she is ranked No. 1 nationally in 55 and over singles and doubles and No. 6 in the world. She helped the U.S. team win the international Maureen Connelly Cup in Turkey last year. She has won 14 national senior tennis championships, seven in singles, seven in doubles.
In her first age 60-and-over tournament in the last week of January in Palm Springs, she won both singles and doubles.
"A good start for my 60s," she said. "It was a category II national event."
Downing lives in Shingle Springs, Calif., about 30 miles north of Sacramento, where she worked as a tennis director at the Millennium Sports Club for 19 years before retiring from full-time teaching in 2006. The retirement has allowed her to concentrate on competition.
"I practice once a day, sometimes twice, in the morning and afternoon," she said. "There's a tennis court where I live, which makes it convenient. I do a lot of fitness training, I do some teaching, and I help coach the high school boys' tennis team."
The constant practice, plus fitness training and a diet of fruit, pasta, vegetables and chicken, keeps Downing in top shape.
A 1967 MacArthur High School graduate, she was a swimmer early on because MacArthur did not have girls' tennis. She was an immediate winner in tennis in the Central Illinois tournament in Fairview Park and in Western Tennis Association youth tournaments.
She played tennis for Stanford University, where she received a degree in psychology, then worked in California as a tennis director. In 1986, she won the U.S. Tennis Association 35 and over indoor singles and doubles championships.
A long time ago, a man looking for something to write about in the Central Illinois tennis tournament was directed to the ice cream counter by Duane Garver, the late Mr. Tennis in Decatur, and by Jim Jarrett, the Fairview Park tennis pro.
A freckle-faced 15-year-old girl was handing out ice cream bars and soft drinks while waiting to play in women's singles. "She may be the best we've had here," Garver said.
Jarrett agreed: "She is probably farther advanced for her age than any of the woman players we've had. Consistency is the backbone of her game."
The article was headlined: "Geared for success … Downing fulfills prophecy."
And then some.