Nola Collins is world number three in her age division. (Facebook: Tennis Seniors Queensland 2017)
Think of Australian tennis greats and names like Rod Laver, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong-Cawley come to mind. But Nola Collins is older than all of them and is still near the top of the world tennis rankings.
Collins was close to 50 when she started taking tennis seriously and has battled liver cancer for the past seven years. But the 80-year-old Queenslander has won more than 30 titles in the highly competitive game of seniors tennis.
“I’m what you might call a late bloomer,” she said.
“I joined seniors when I was 48 and became quite a keen tennis player after that. It’s taken me all over the world and it’s been wonderful.”
Her love for the game ensured her disease didn’t prevent her from playing.
“I can’t do much about that but I go each day to each day and I’m still out on the tennis court,” Collins said.
“I can’t complain and I’m well.”
The long road to the top
Collins is currently world number three in the over-80s division, a feat all the more impressive considering cancer treatment has limited her travel to just five weeks a year.
A tournament is played on the International Tennis Federation’s seniors tour nearly every week of the year, but a lack of events in Australia makes overseas travel vital to gain all important rankings points.
“It’s fierce competition, there’s a lot of prestige attached to this,” Collins said.
“You could travel every week and play a top-level tournament in Europe. As you climb the rankings list you need to be playing higher-ranked tournaments and we only have two here [in Australia].
“I’d like to go away for longer but I have to be around, I have a monthly injection and it has to be refrigerated so I can’t take it with me, that does limit me.”
Nola Collins has competed around the world, winning more than 30 titles. (Facebook: Tennis Seniors Australia 2015)
While rankings points are hard-fought, the tour also provides a great social opportunity.
“It’s wonderful. I’ve made many, many friends over the years locally, Australia-wide and internationally. I think that’s the best part of it — to meet up with people that you don’t see from year-to-year,” Collins said.
“I’ve been to many places. I’ve played in a little place in Austria called Brand and we were very excited.
“It snowed and we had to go indoors and you couldn’t lob the ball because it hit the ceiling.”
Hard to keep up with her
Collins’ tennis career spans four decades with husband, George, by her side the whole time.
“He’s my mentor, he’s my coach and he’s my hitting partner,” she said.
“I have to thank George for his encouragement and his support over the years. He’s improved my tennis enormously.”
Mr Collins still plays on the tour occasionally, but his focus is on Nola.
“I love my wife and she’s a damn good tennis player and I love to see her competing and I love to see her doing well,” he said.
“My wife is doing so well that we get to go to lots of places that we wouldn’t normally bother to travel to.”
Collins said her desire to play all the time kept her from feeling sorry for herself.
“It forces her to move around and not feel sorry for herself and she doesn’t ever feel sorry for herself,” Mr Collins said.
“She’s up and going all the time. [It’s a] bit hard for me to keep up with her at times — in fact most times.”
And he thinks she’s still got a few more years on the court.
“Mentally she’ll go till she’s 200, physically I’m not so sure,” he said.
“Her competitive nature keeps her going.”