My Visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame
Before taking a break from French Open tennis, I want to express my appreciation for Rafael Nadal’s 26 consecutive French Open singles wins, Roger Federer’s 16 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances and Novak Djokovic’s 5th straight Grand Slam semifinal appearance. If Federer beats Gonzo, it will be 16 consecutive semifinal appearances as well. These numbers demonstrate that the big 3 are really in their own galaxy at the moment even if other players can challenge and beat them on any given day. Consistency is a key factor in dominance.
Hall of Fame Fun
On May 31, 2008 I had the opportunity to attend the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI. I had attended the museum twice in 1999 when I lived much closer to Newport and got to see Chris Woodruff win the title. It was nice to return and anyone who visits has to feel a bit of nostalgia when seeing the impressive show court at the entrance of the facility.
The museum does a good job of conveying the history of the game. Early in the tour one gets an overview of Real, Royal or Court Tennis. This sport differs from Lawn Tennis in multiple ways and was invented by monks in medieval France. The scoring system for Royal Tennis is complex. I read the rules over and doubt I could pick up how to execute proper play without simply playing someone in the know a few times.
The museum then takes its visitors through the decades of the twentieth century. The documentary of Don Budge defeating Gottfried von Cramm in the deciding match of the 1937 Davis Cup semifinals was interesting. Budge won 8-6 in the fifth set after coming back from 2 sets down. The match had some implications due to the Nazi regime in Germany at the time even though von Cramm was not supportive of Nazism.
An entire room was devoted to the “Battle of the Sexes” match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Riggs had trounced Margaret Court on mother’s day leading into this match. One got a sense of Riggs’ showmanship as he called that victory the “Mother’s Day Massacre.” Riggs entered the match with King wearing a gold jacket that said “Sugar Daddy.” The museum had this jacket as well as a massive caramel sugar daddy candy on display.
Lew Hoad’s near miss at capturing the Grand Slam in 1956 was also the subject of a mini-documentary on the tour. Other items of note were many rackets displaying the changing technology of tennis over the decades. The museum also displayed “tennis cards” that were sold in cigarette cases in the early portion of the 20th century. The tour concludes with an overview of the 4 Grand Slams. One can select various classic matches and watch highlights. The major problem I saw with this was that the losing player was often featured as winning 60-70% of the points in the highlight reel.
Once a visitor completes the tour, he or she can tour the grounds. They are impressive and it is fun to watch people taking lessons on grass courts. The grounds also feature a red clay court and what I am guessing are indoor courts that are off limits to the public. I think that the grounds also house a tennis club for locals, but once again some areas were off limits. Finally, a person can get a look at Royal Tennis being played. The observation area for this is not conducive to viewing. When I visited in 1999, a visitor could sit courtside and watch people actually playing the sister sport of Lawn Tennis. The current observation area allows for a poor view of the Royal Tennis Court from a second floor. I could see about half of the court if I strained my neck. This was a disappointing end to a fine visit as I remember being impressed with Royal Tennis in my 1999 visits. The gift shop and clothing shop offer a variety of tennis related items one can buy. Some of the gifts are reproductions of tennis related art that is on display in the museum. Of course, these are located near the final exit from the complex.
I recommend visiting if one is in the area. Renting a grass court might also cap a great visit. Attending the Hall of Fame during the ATP Tour event or Champions Tour event no doubt adds to the experience. The regular tour is $10 and offers a nice insight into where the sport has been, where it is, and where it might be going.
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