Tufts math professor selected to represent U.S. tennis team in Turkey

Although you wouldn’t know it, there is a national tennis champion in our midst.

And it’s not a Tufts student, either.

Marjorie “Molly” Hahn actually went pro while teaching mathematics on the Hill. And despite her affinity for algorithms and proofs, Hahn has developed into one of the game’s most talented and shrewd players in her age group.

This month, Hahn, who has captained various regional teams over her playing career, was named by the USTA to the 2008 Alice Marble Cup Team for women 60 and over. The team, comprised of Hahn and three others from across the country, will represent the United States at the Marble Cup competition Oct. 12-18 in Antalya, Turkey.

The squad will compete against other teams from countries across the globe in hopes of earning both the gold medal and the status of best team in the world at their level.

“It’s very exciting for me,” Hahn said. “This is a lot like the Olympics for people that are senior players. It is very exciting to get the opportunity to play against the best players in my age division in the world.”

“To be chosen to play in this tournament is huge,” said Joan Oelschlager, director of press relations for the Marble Cup Team. “It’s sort of the ultimate goal for an amateur player. Yes, you obviously want to win, but it sets you apart from the rest of the amateurs that take part in tournaments but don’t get to represent their country internationally.”

In order to be named to the team, Hahn played flawless tennis at recent national tournaments, putting together some quality wins against top-ranked American players over the past few years.

“[Being named to the team] is based on her tournament results from the previous year, as well as her cumulative tennis results over the past couple of years,” Oelschlager said.

“They take people that are in the top grouping of the national rankings and those who have won various tournaments and have quality head-to-head singles match wins,” Hahn said. “Being a doubles player, in my case, was a substantial plus for me as well.”

She hasn’t always been a tennis phenom, though. Hahn first picked up a racket when she was only 12 years old. Later that summer, she took her first crack at tournament play.

“The pro at my club asked me if I wanted to enter into a tournament, but I was too young at the time,” Hahn said. “And even though the pro knew I wasn’t that good, and I was too young, he let me play. Of course, I lost my first match 6-0, 6-0.”

Being bageled like that certainly wasn’t going to be the end of Hahn’s playing career, however. As spring rolled around that following year, she found the nerve to request a rematch with her opponent from her first match, and this time she came out on top.

More recently, Hahn has evolved into one of the best tennis players in the United States in her age group over the course of the past decade. Her specialty is grass court doubles, and she has won the national tournament for her age level in each of the past five years.

At this point, Hahn does not know whether she will compete for the team in singles or doubles, but she is certain that no matter where she plays, her time spent in the classroom will give her a mental edge over her competition.

A full-time Tufts mathematics professor, Hahn has found that there is a great carry-over between skills used in the math classroom and on the tennis court.

“As a professor, I use my analytical and critical thinking skills to try and pinpoint my opponent’s weaknesses and exploit them,” Hahn said. “In mathematics, you try to prove things step by step; you attempt to set up a logical method. I approach tennis by using this plan and then adjust on the fly.”

Leading up to next month’s tournament, which will feature a red clay surface, Hahn is making attempts to work on her clay game. She is known for her outstanding grass court play, partially due to the fact that the majority of her free time comes during the summer when grass courts are most prominently used.

Red clay courts, however, are much slower than grass courts, so a player who attempts to out-muscle an opponent may find their attempts futile if they’re pitted against someone with good lateral movement.

“There is definitely a big difference,” Hahn said. “If you serve and come to the net right off, you’re probably going to have the ball hit right by you. Lots of opponents are good at side-to-side running, but up-and-down is much tougher to do effectively while accounting for all types of shots.”

In spite of the challenge the surface shift inevitably presents, Hahn is equipped with an analytical mind that knows how to use clay’s properties to its advantage.

“You have to be much more patient and wait for angles, good drop shots, and place your shots much better,” Hahn said. “Knowing math as I do, I tend to out-think my opponents very often, so they don’t particularly like to play against me because I am good at making them do the things they don’t like to do.”

With very little prior knowledge on her future competition, Hahn comes into next month’s tournament hoping to represent herself and her country to the best of her ability.

“It is hard for me to have realistic expectations because I haven’t really competed in a tournament like this before,” Hahn said. “I just want to help my team as much as possible in any way I can towards winning this cup. That’s all I can do.”