Play it like Claire: A conversation with Claire Norton

cg: What’s your ranking and where do you play?
USTA Ranking 5.0, Stamford Yacht Club A Team, Middlesex Club PPTA certified head paddle pro, run a women’s paddle program at Waveny in New Canaan

cg: Do you have a nickname?
Claire: I was the youngest of six and my brothers called me “Clutch” for being able to come through in the clutch. I liked that.

cg: What is your first tennis memory?
I used to play in the driveway against the side of our house until all the shingles would fall off — I couldn’t get enough of it. Sorry, Mom…

cg: How and when did you get into tennis?
My Dad died when I was two, as the youngest of six and a total tomboy; I was always outside competing with the boys in my neighborhood.  I would play on the public courts at nearby Cummings Park. At age 10, Tom Callahan, a school principal and avid tennis player, recommended that I join the National Junior Tennis League (NJTL) then at Cummings Park.

I would ride my bike there everyday, and if I couldn’t get on a court I would keep on riding. That’s when I got the tennis bug. It was so much fun and I had crushes on all the cute tennis pros.

Later, I was selected for a spot on the summer scholarship program at Kings Highway indoor club. It was a luxury for me to be able to play tennis in the winter, and I would eagerly get to my lessons at 5 am before school.

I played tennis through high school and took a break from it in college. I didn’t really pick it up again until about 15 years ago when we joined Stamford Yacht Club.

I started on the C Team, which was a huge blow to my ego. I saw ladies on the A Team that I thought I could outplay. I knew I had to learn the game of doubles and make a run for the top! In two seasons, I fell in love with doubles and was at the top of the A Team.

cg: Do you play other sports?
My Mom is my hero, no matter what sport I wanted to try she made it work on a tight budget. She was also my number one fan growing up, and when I played competitive basketball, field hockey and softball she was always in the stands cheering me on.

After getting into doubles tennis, I picked-up paddle tennis and that became another passion of mine. I became a certified pro and started teaching 10 years ago. Now, I head the paddle program at Middlesex Club in Darien and run a women’s program at Waveny in New Canaan.

cg: What sport do you prefer and why?
I love tennis but I really love paddle.

cg: Where would be the most exotic place you would like to play tennis?
Anguilla. I have never been there but would love to go. (HINT, HINT to Claire’s husband from Courtgirl Magazine, we hear you have an anniversary coming up in September. Just sayin’, easy gift idea.)

cg: Describe your ideal partner.
Someone who understands the game and plays with finesse and strategy not just power. Partners need to complement each other and play as a team.

cg: What has a coach ever said to you that seemed ridiculous at the time but you later realized was true?
“You’re on the C Team so you can learn to play doubles.” At first it was a blow, but my coach was right. I was a singles player with no doubles experience, and when I got to the A Team it was that much sweeter.

cg: Why do you play tennis?
I’m a competitive person, I love the camaraderie and playing on a team. Hanging out with the guys and girls after playing… there’s just so much that the sport has to offer. It’s such a rewarding challenge to learn how to outsmart your opponent and how not to beat yourself.

cg: What advice would you give women getting into the game in their 30s and 40s?
Have fun and leave your losses on the court. None of us are going to Wimbledon; if you’ve lost a match, don’t carry the anger with you all day.

cg: Are you a racquet or a ball? Why?
I’m a racquet. It’s my attack weapon. I’m a serve and volleyer, get me to the net and I’ll take care of business.

cg: Last words?
If it’s not fun, move on. Let it go, life’s too short for that.

Thanks so much for your words of wisdom and inspiration. Claire, you simply rock!

If you’d like to get in touch with Claire regarding the Middlesex Club paddle program, she can be reached at or 203.829.3045