Five Questions for…Debbie Gersten, Captain of the Goldman Tennis Center’s 5.0 18+ Women’s Team

Summer Verhoeven

Debbie Gersten started captaining a 5.0 women’s team at Golden Gate Park in 2015, and in that role, she’s become the go-to person for high-level female tennis players in San Francisco. Gersten played at the University of Denver and understands that the pool of former college players in San Francisco is small. She says as captain, she’s able to provide opportunities for players at her level to further their competitive spirit.

In June, Gersten led her 5.0 team to victory at the USTA NorCal Adult League 18 & Over Sectionals and next month, they’ll be representing Northern California at the National Championships in Scottsdale, AZ.

1.Where did you learn to play tennis?

When I was 11, my parents moved our family at the end of the school year across town to a new neighborhood where I didn't know anyone, but was across the street from a park with a small rec center where I hung out every day. One day the rec leader asked if I wanted to play tennis and he taught me how to play. At the end of summer, he encouraged me to sign up for a junior satellite tournament which I ended up winning and I was immediately hooked. I had a late start compared to many, but reached a #8 ranking in the Southwest and went on to play on scholarship at the University of Denver. Fun fact - 5.0 Nationals this year will take place at Scottsdale Ranch Park - only a mile away from where I grew up and learned how to play tennis.

2.In June, your 5.0 team won 18+ Norcal Sectionals after having come close in previous years. What was it like to finally win?

More than anything, I'm so proud of the ladies on the team and how well they gelled together this season. We added a few amazing players this year to fill in gaps left by a couple players who sadly moved away during the pandemic and a couple others who are expecting this fall. I think we're stronger than we've ever been and we're excited to represent NorCal and the Goldman Tennis Center in October.

3.You had a successful college tennis career, having led your team as captain to the NCAA Championships your senior year. How do you keep the competitive fire going decades after graduating from college?

Many people who played competitively in juniors and in college get burned out and I was no different. But after living and working in New York City and overseas for 10+ years where courts are either scarce or way too expensive, I realized how much I missed playing and started up again soon after I moved to San Francisco in 2009. Tennis has become fun again and is how I've met the majority of my wonderful friends and "tennis family" in the Bay Area.

4.How do you and other high-level players maintain your skill level?

USTA leagues provide a great structure for all players to be competitive at any level and allows us to come together with friends, old and new. I don't think anyone at our level likes to lose, so we practice a lot together on and off season as it's a great way to be social, maintain our competitive spirit and get some exercise at the same time.

5.What interests and hobbies do you have off the court?

When I'm local, I love to play golf when It's warm, ski in the winter and I love music, so I go to a lot of concerts and music festivals. That said, traveling and exploring new places and cultures is my true passion. I lived and worked in Amsterdam from 1999-2001 which was amazing and where I caught my "travel bug". I have since taken two long career breaks where I traded in my briefcase (I work in Finance) for a backpack to travel around the world, visiting nearly 100 countries (so far). I also love scuba diving and have logged more than 350 dives all over the world.