Learn more about head varsity tennis coach and international champion Sue Bartlett.
“Only on the days I don’t play do I lose.”
That’s one of Sue Bartlett’s favorite quotes—and it speaks not only to her status as the GPS head varsity tennis coach where she helps girls fulfill their potential, but also to her personal record in the sport. As a USPTA Professional, a senior national champion, Tennessee Hall of Famer, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Chattanooga Sports Hall of Famer, and so much more, this coach and player has lived her life in pursuit of tennis and aims to be a positive influence on her students’ lives on and off the court.
Growing up in England, Bartlett started playing tennis at age 13. She reached a ranking of No. 17 in juniors in the United Kingdom and was encouraged to play at the college level in the United States. Through a series of “coincidences” she was put in contact with the new women’s tennis program at UTC, led by renowned former player and coach Alice Tym.
Coach Tym wrote Bartlett a letter on July 1 offering her a half scholarship, as she was sight unseen, and a full scholarship the following year if she made the team.
“I didn’t know anybody,” she says. “I got off the plane and I’ve been here ever since.”
A Host of Influential Coaches
Bartlett ended up playing for Tym and three different coaches while at UTC. She was a Division II All-American and a member of two national championship teams. In addition to playing for Alice Tym, she played for Bill Tym and then for the man who would become her father-in-law, Tommy Bartlett.
“My college coaches were really unique—and I always felt like the fact that I had many very different coaches was a huge influence on me,” Bartlett says. “It taught me a lot about different styles (physically and mentally) in coaching and has impacted my coaching style tremendously, although at the time it was quite crazy.”
While at UTC, Sue Bartlett also played for her future husband Bill Bartlett, a 25-year GPS tennis coach. With Tommy Bartlett’s recommendation, Sue pursued graduate school and worked at Manker Patten Tennis Club while subletting a room from the Bartletts. She took a position as the tennis pro at the Fairyland Club on Lookout Mountain before accepting a position at GPS in 1988.
While she was in grad school, Sue and Billy started dating; they married shortly thereafter and have been married for 38 years. Their daughter, Claire ’08, played collegiately at Virginia and University of Florida after an outstanding high school career at GPS.
Bringing the Bruisers to State
After coaching for more than three decades at GPS, Bartlett still loves working with the girls. She’s coached them to five state team championships and eight runner-up finalist spots. Nine years into her career, the team finally beat Baylor in 1997. After losing to Baylor twice that year, Bartlett felt the pressure when the Bruisers had match point.
Did the team practice differently to prepare for this win? Bartlett chalks it up to a pre-match conversation the day before the match that started a longstanding tradition—if the Bruisers beat Baylor, Bartlett would take them to the U.S. Open.
“I said ‘OK, sure,’ when the girls asked me,” Bartlett remembers. “At this point, I wasn’t sure if we would beat them. When they came off the court after winning, they didn’t even care about that match. They just wanted to make sure I was still planning to take them to the U.S. Open!”
The trip, and subsequent trips to Wimbledon, mirrors her mentality as a coach: to play hard, play fair, and have fun.
“My goal is to teach these girls to be strong women and to play with respect—respect to the game, to your opponent, and to yourself,” Bartlett says. “I encourage them to play their game, be competitive, don’t take anything too personally, and let what is out of their control fall where it may. Our girls aren’t just excellent players—they’re well-rounded people and great students.”
Continued International Titles
While recognized for her coaching, Bartlett continues to play and thrive on the court. She was a senior national champion, winning the USTA 35-and-over National Hard Courts in 1993 and the 50s clay courts in 2012, as well as many British National titles.
She has represented her native Great Britain in the World Team Championships for eight years, winning seven world team medals, including one gold. With her daughter, Claire, she won a national mother/daughter national championship in 2003. Most recently she was the tennis champion in both 60s Singles and Doubles for the 2019 British Open Seniors Indoor Tournament and has also represented Tennessee and the Southern States in 2019.
Bartlett gets to play at countries around the world, including England, Portugal, and France this year.. But her heart for the sport—and for the girls—remains in Chattanooga.
“I’ve been able to travel a lot playing tennis, and obviously visiting my family in the UK, but Chattanooga has been a wonderful place to live,” she says.
Meg Glass Bandy ’87, who trained extensively with Bartlett at UTC and was an assistant coach at GPS for several years, supports Bartlett’s commitment to the school and city. Bandy’s daughter, Maddox ’18, played for Bartlett, who led her to two state doubles title and a state singles title.
“Coach Sue Bartlett is the real deal,” Bandy says. “She loves tennis, she is committed to making GPS tennis the best it can be, and she shares her love for the sport with every girl who walks onto those courts. She has amazing credentials and could coach anywhere but chooses to be at GPS. Sue has touched countless girls’ lives through tennis and truly believes she is not just teaching players a sport but a series of life lessons.”