Column: A little more on Newport and the International Hall of Fame
I thought the adventure to cover the Newport, Rhode Island, International Tennis Hall of Fame was about to be over when on my way flying back to Phoenix from Providence via Charlotte North Carolina the weather got the better of the airline industry and had flights cancelled so late into the night that hundreds of people had no choice but to sleep in the airport - prisoners of travel. Sleeping on the floor, in a chair, a bench - really makes for a long, long night.
So my thoughts went back to the previous three days of what to me was more of a dream than reality, watching and covering the Enshrinement of five new inductees into the ITHoF, Vic Braden, Kim Cljisters, Andy Roddick, Steve Flink, and Monique Kalkman van den Bosh.
Newport is a surreal place, founded in 1639, with a very colorful history from whaling, slave trade, piracy, fort’s and mansions....from the late 1700’s to the mid nineteen-hundreds the nation’s wealthiest families were building summer homes there. With thousands of sail boats in port, narrow historic streets lined with specialty stores and food outlets, the cliff walk, biking and fishing, all make it very cool to hang out in this mecca of big bucks. But that doesn’t really matter because we all know everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time - right?
So with what used to be a wealthy-man’s game, tennis made its debut at the Newport Casino (1881), which was originally a club for gentlemen on Bellevue Avenue.
The business area of Bellevue Avenue is made up of a multitude of shops and store fronts that are similar to our very own Whiskey Row in Prescott.
The double doors to get into the Casino look like you’re just going into one of these small stores. You walk through a short brick hallway and another set of double doors to see what can only be described (to a tennis player) as the Shangri-La of a throw-back setting to the 1880’s. You come across the horse-shoe grass court with players hitting the ball with old wood racquets, long sleeved shirts, hats and white trousers, women with long flowing skirts, covered from head to toe.
The court is surrounded by wood fencing and thick green bushes to help knock the balls down. All of this is circled by beautiful patios, the museum (the old casino), and beyond that more grass courts, the Bill Talbert Stadium Court, the Royal Tennis Court, singular clay court, old office building and eatery, new Indoor facility, 4-hard courts (total of 20 courts in all) and new office building.
It’s a real moment, especially with the hustle and bustle of the ATP men’s singles and doubles tournament and Enshrinement weekend.
Great players from the past and present are there enjoying themselves, the museum, the memories, the stories being retold and heard again - or maybe for the first time. Many of these people are being reacquainted after years, it’s a happening, a joyous reunion. Things that might not have been said in the past are now on the table - how they felt, why they did certain things, a different look after many years have passed.
Records are accounted for when it comes to being inducted as one of the few chosen in a sport with such a rich history, but almost each and every inductee will say how humbled they are, how they couldn’t have done the things they did without being surrounded by people who gave so much of themselves to and for them. That the accomplishments were a team effort in what is deemed an individual sport. That a shot here or there sometimes for or against was the slight difference in winning or losing a major. Why me, or why-not me? As we know, the fine-line between greatness and “just out” is ever-so-slight.
Luncheons, dinners, interviews, photographs, laughter, tears and many hugs.
You just don’t know who you might run in to. Billie Jean, James Blake, Andre and Steffi, Rod Laver....almost anyone in the tennis industry. The likelihood of you standing next to Chris Evert, Todd Martin or Stan Smith while walking the grounds and striking up a conversation is certainly not unusual at this cozy complex.
So if you’re a tennis player looking for the special tennis vacation that you’ll certainly come away feeling was more than you expected - give consideration to Newport during the Hall of Fame ceremonies, you can even bring your own racquet and play on their grass courts in the foot-steps of every great player who’s ever played the game because they’ve all been here too!
Well, my plane is about to board and I’m a little anxious seeing I’ve waited all night to get back home, will see you soon in our own little mecca of tennis in Prescott.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or firstname.lastname@example.org.