Jackie Holden - Profile!


Sporting honour



Jackie Holden quit the professional tennis championship circuit back in 1989 aged just 22, the D&S Times' sister paper The Northern Echo described her as "probably the North East's best ever women's tennis player". Fast forward 33 years, and her achievements alongside doubles partner Claire Pollard are rightly still being celebrated. The duo have just been inducted into Mississippi State University's M-Club Hall of Fame, flying in for a weekend of celebrations in Starkville.

Ahead of the ceremony, local press described them as Mississippi State's greatest women's doubles team of all- time — and their record speaks for itself. They won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) doubles title in 1989, and invitations to the US Open and Wimbledon followed. Claire still holds the Mississippi State school record for 111 doubles wins and Jackie is second with 106.

The pair were actually part of the 2020 class, but Covid- related travel restrictions at the time made the trip to Starkville impossible until this year, when they received the honour in front of family, friends and other inductees. Events included a Friday evening gala dinner followed by a Saturday football game, when they went onto pitch at half time to receive the

applause of the crowd. "Collegiate sport out there is on a different level," says Jackie. "It was a big honour, you felt as though you'd had a significant impact on College athletics."

Jackie and Claire's successful partnership started when they were separately approached by a coach at Mississippi State to see if they would be interested in studying, and playing there. The pair knew each other a bit from the UK tennis circuit, but once across the Pond, became firm friends, rooming together, playing doubles together, and studying together for four years. Their dedication paid off with their win at the NCAA A tennis star from Northallerton has received a major sporting honour in the US. Hannah Chapman reports championships, although they did miss their graduation ceremony — attended by President George Bush — as Jackie insisted they drove to the tournament in Florida, rather than flying. "Claire forgave me when we won it," says Jackie.

The victory brought them an automatic wildcard into US Open, and another unexpected bonus came when the Wimbledon Committee called to say they were being offered a wildcard to compete on the hallowed turf of SW19. "We were really excited but it was so nerve wracking," says Jackie. "And then we found out the draw. When you are playing Stefi Graf and Gabriela Sabatini, you know then you are going to be on a show court, and you're thinking, 'I'm not going to be able to control my nerves. I'll never be able to knock up with her, there's all sorts of things going through your mind. I knew I would be knocking up with Stefi Graf, because she played the right court, and I played the left. I thought 'I'm not going to be able to get the sliced backhand back!' "I didn't think I could cope with it, you just have to trust that you have done the preparations that you need to do, and just really try and shut everything out, shut out who you are playing, shut out the crowd. Just try and trust what you worked on, we were a really good doubles team. "Back in those days you didn't really have doubles specialists, the reason Graf and Sabatini played doubles was because their coaches thought it would give them more grass practice, they just happened to win it the year before, they were that good. If you knew what you were doing on a doubles court back in the day you could probably hold your own, because they were two amazing singles players, but were they doubles experts? Probably not. You have to trust in your own abilities and what you have worked hard for." Jackie and Claire went 40-15 up in the first game, but ultimately lost 6-2 6-2, Jackie holding her serve twice, and the pair breaking serve twice. "I wouldn't take back the fact we got to an opportunity to play Graf and Sabatini," says Jackie. "But I think we could have won a couple of games, when you looked round at the draw, there were a lot of doubles players that year we would have been confident against. It would have been nice to get a couple under our belt and get used to playing in that environment. But it's nice to say that you have played against the best players in the world."

Then it was on to the US Open, where they once again drew the number one seeds, Jana Nvotna and Helena Sukova.

'They were a different kettle of fish," says Jackie. "They were a doubles team, doubles experts. They weren't individually as good as Sabatini or Graf but together they knew what they were doing on a doubles court."

After the dizzy heights of the major championships, Jackie played on for a while, going to Belgium and France to play

satellite events to try and get a ranking, as she couldn't play professionally while at college. She played three or four and

did okay, but hated the life on tour. "I was playing well, but it was so hard, you have no friends, you don't know how

you're going to get from one tournament to the next. Going from a situation at college where you're travelling with a

team of seven other girls all supporting you, to travelling on your own to very small places is difficult. It's very

lonely and I admire the people who can do that. "I missed being at home and was bored, outside of the tennis. I know a few people were disappointed because they thought I was good enough to do it, and maybe I could have been, but I just

Back at home, Jackie coached for 18 months, then worked for Adidas in tennis promotions and PR, before moving onto

roles with the Lawn Tennis Association.

In 2008 she went back to the US to link up with Claire, who had stayed on and developed a successful coaching career in

collegiate tennis, working at North Western as her assistant. She spent six years in the US, meeting partner Val and

welcoming their son Luca into the world. The family came back to live in the UK in 2014, giving her mum and dad

precious time with their grandson while he was young. Both Val and nine-year-old Luca were in the audience to

see Jackie, who now works as alumni relations manager at Leeds Beckett University, and Claire receive their honours in

Starkville. "I hadn't been back since I left," Jackie says. "It was lovely to be honoured and hopefully it inspires other women."