Dahlia Aman, who recently swept through the Empire State Games senior division in tennis without losing a game, qualifying for next summer’s national tournament in Cleveland, played volleyball when growing up in the Philippines and didn’t begin playing tennis until she moved to the United States in 1973.
“I wish I had learned when I was younger,” said the 5-foot-1-inch dynamo, with a laugh. “I would have been traveling.”
Chances are she would have indeed, for Aman, whose husband, George, is a life master bridge player, and a frequent hitting partner, has won myriad matches over the years, in United States Tennis Association and club tournaments, since taking the game up. There are, she said, trophies “in the garage . . . inside, all over the place . . . medals too.”
Moreover, she had learned on her own, “by reading Tennis Magazine and watching people play,” starting off in Syracuse, where she met her husband, who, from 1984 until his recent retirement, administered schools in Riverhead, Longwood, Amagansett, and East Hampton (The Ross School). He is soon to become the president of the East Hampton School Board.
“I was looking for volleyball in Syracuse,” she said, “but I didn’t find it.”
She did, however, find her primary avocation and her husband — on indoor tennis courts there. Asked if they had hit it off from the start, the interviewee, who was wearing a dark black print dress and a jaunty red cap, said, with another laugh, “Oh no, I didn’t like him! But I’m glad he persisted — I almost missed the opportunity. He courted me for six years. It was a good thing that it wasn’t love at first sight; I wanted to know him very well, and I wanted him to know me very well. We have been together now for 28 years.”
Did she play bridge? “Oh no, I don’t play bridge — tennis is enough. . . . He teaches people every day, including members of the Devon Yacht Club. He’s been there for 13 years.”
When asked about Aman’s tennis game, one of her hitting partners, Barbara Mueller, said, “She’s incredibly disciplined, focused, and smart on the court. . . . She gets everything! She’s one of those people who, when she decides to do something, does it 100 percent.”
Aman (pronounced Ahmin) found no tennis in Riverhead either, though she did find it at what used to be the Hamptons Athletic Club — now Sportime — in Quogue. “I took no lessons — I just played. After I won a championship, they threw me in the pool. I didn’t know how to swim. My husband had to jump in and save me. I won five [women’s A] tournaments there in a row, and 12 in a row at Westhampton Beach Tennis and Sport. Then I got pregnant. Then I won again. And then I stopped because people started hating me. You can tell — they get really tired of you.”
On moving here, when Dr. Aman was named the Amagansett School’s superintendent, she won numerous tournaments at Green Hollow, Buckskill, Sag Harbor, on the North Fork, and at the East Hampton Indoor-Outdoor Tennis Club, where her elder son, Dennis Ferrando, whom she started off at the age of 6, is a teaching pro.
While she used to play in 10 tourneys a summer and was at one time the top-ranked player in the eastern region, competing in U.S.T.A. events all over Long Island and upstate, she has let up a bit in recent years, playing three times a week and competing in two to three tournaments in the summer.
When cramps forced her to withdraw from a tournament at E.H.I.T., she promised herself, she said, that she would stop whenever that happened again. “It took me two weeks to recover that time . . . I wasn’t even losing when it happened.”
The heat, she said, had forced her to withdraw from the national senior division tournament in Louisville, Ky., six years ago, and from the nationals in Houston, Tex., last year. “At Louisville, I won the first set 6-0, but I had to stop in the second set because of cramps — it was 98 degrees and very humid. In Houston, I got to the final, but I couldn’t play because of the heat. I made a good showing though, even though I didn’t win it.”
Tennis, she has said, is her sport, not her life. She spends much time fund-raising for Filipino-American groups — one of which, the Phil-Am Social Club of the Hamptons, she founded in 2005 — that have helped tsunami victims and donate regularly to such organizations as Doctors Without Borders, Ronald McDonald House, and the United Service Organization, Inc., the U.S.O.
She supplements her tennis with workouts at the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter and at the East Hampton Gym, and does Pilates core-strengthening exercises and yoga at home. “I walk every day also. . . . I don’t run on treadmills — I don’t want to hurt my knees.”
Asked if there was any area of her game that needed improving, she said, “No, I don’t think so.”
She has her rackets strung loosely, at 45 pounds, which enables her to hit with power, “though I play with control too. . . . I’m thinking all the time, but not too much! I’ll lob, work you around. If you give me a short ball, I can hit it for a winner. I know I’m known for getting everything back, but I’m more of an offensive player now.”
As for surfaces, “I like Har-Tru the most, then grass, then hard courts. We played on hard courts at Cortland, but I didn’t find them troublesome.”
There is no national tournament this year; they’re played every two years. “Winning at the Empire State Games qualified me to play in Cleveland next summer. I want to win that, and then stop. That’s my goal.”