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International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum July 8, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in History, Sports.
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I recently visited the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum in Newport. This museum preserves the history of tennis and highlights the accomplishments of a select few who made a significant impact on the sport.

Here are ten nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. The playing surface at each of the four major tournaments is an interesting mix of diverse materials, though each is built on a basic layer of subsoil. The surfaces at the Australian Open and the U.S. Open are similar in that both consist of layers of asphalt, concrete and crushed stone. The surface at the French Open is most notable for its topmost layer of crushed red brick, while the surface at Wimbledon consists of layers of a grass mixture and topsoil.

2. Both the U.S. Open and the Australian Open have been contested on multiple surfaces. The U.S. Open has been contested on grass, a clay-like substance known as Har-Tru, and its current hard-court incarnation. As for the Australian Open, it was contested on grass during its tenure at Kooyong before moving to hard courts at Melbourne. It should be noted that Jimmy Connors was the only player to win the U.S. Open on all three of its surfaces.

3. Harry Hopman transformed the Australian Davis Cup team into a powerhouse by instituting a demanding exercise regimen for his players that built fitness and stamina. Hopman was rewarded for his efforts as Australia captured an astounding 15 Davis Cup titles from 1950 to 1967. He would later move to the U.S. and play a behind-the-scenes role in shaping the career of John McEnroe. It should be noted that Hopman was actually a fantastic tennis player in his own right; he captured several major titles in mixed doubles during his playing career.

4. Maureen Connolly is one of the most underrated female tennis players of all-time. During her dominating 1953 season, she became the first woman to capture the Grand Slam; she only dropped one set in her run to that monumental achievement, and she only dropped an average of three games per match. She was only 18 at the end of that season and seemed poised for superstardom, but she was forced to retire after an untimely horse-riding accident. She would later die of cancer at 34.

5. In 1977, a major controversy arose in the tennis world due to the introduction of the spaghetti racket. There was widespread concern that because of its unique design, the spaghetti racket would enable players to strike balls with a previously unattainable level of topspin, providing them an unfair advantage. After a detailed investigation that involved extensive tests, the International Tennis Federation officially banned the spaghetti racket from competitive play.

6. The path to recognition of the beneficial role of professionals in tennis was not particularly smooth. Many of the top amateur players refused to turn pro, believing that such a move would be viewed as crass and undignified. Those amateurs who did turn pro fought a constant battle with the public perception that they were mere barnstormers. For quite some time, “shamateurism” prevailed on the amateur circuit, as event promoters would pay top amateurs “under the table” to attract them to their competitions. In light of this, it is somewhat ironic that Arthur Ashe had to forgo his prize for winning the 1968 U.S. Open title; it went to the runner-up, Tom Okker.

7. Bobby Riggs tirelessly promoted the Sugar Daddy brand in the run-up to the celebrated Battle of the Sexes in 1973. He actually wore Sugar Daddy apparel as he entered the Astrodome for that famous clash, and he only shed it after his warm-up session. The ratings bonanza that Sugar Daddy enjoyed from this famous duel allowed Riggs to continue earning a tidy annual sum of $50000 for the next decade as a pitchman for the company.

8. Jean Borotra, Jacques “Toto” Brugnon, Henri Cochet and Rene “Crocodile” Lacoste comprised France’s famed “Four Musketeers.” In terms of their on-court performance, each of them brought something different to the table, including Brugnon’s affinity for playing doubles and Cochet’s never-say-die attitude despite his relative lack of height. Yet the “four Musketeers” combined to win 20 Grand Slam singles titles and 6 consecutive Davis Cup titles, dashing the title hopes of the U.S. Davis Cup squad on several occasions.

9. The evolution of tennis balls and their containers has been, surprisingly, rather eventful. Early tennis balls were not green – they were white and were composed of cloth strips reinforced with twine; they would later rely on a hollow rubber core that characterizes all present-day balls. As for their containers, paper bags were initially deemed to be sufficient in this regard. Also, it should be noted that a shortage of raw materials during World War II led to the packing of balls in cardboard tubes (during that time, recycled and synthetic rubber were used to manufacture balls). In addition, at one point sealed metal containers with attached keys were the prevalent means of housing tennis balls; of course, once these pressurized containers were opened, it didn’t take long for each ball to become flat.

10. The evolution of the tennis racket occurred over several centuries. Modern-day rackets allow players to strike balls with power, and this arose from the French game of jeu de paume, where players used their hands to strike balls; later they would use gloves, wrap cloth strips reinforced with twine around their hands, and even borrow equipment from the game of pallone – enabling them to strike the ball with their wrists. Modern-day rackets also allow players to strike balls in a controlled manner, and this arose from court tennis, where players used slightly distorted wooden rackets. Combining these two attributes in the modern tennis racket allow players to hit punishing – and precise – groundstrokes.

The museum housed a treasure trove of interesting items, including a telegram sent by Jackie Robinson to Arthur Ashe congratulating him on his 1968 U.S. Open title, the scorecard signed by Roger Federer and Andy Roddick after their epic 2009 Wimbledon final match, and the outfit worn by Juan Martin del Potro during his run to the 2009 U.S. Open title. I also enjoyed watching a lawn tennis doubles match on the museum grounds, as I had never seen a grass-court match in person before my visit.

The one quibble that I had concerned the fact that in order to find reasonably-priced parking in downtown Newport, I needed to park in the garage next to the Visitor Information Center, which is about a 20-minute walk from the museum. I also needed to obtain a RIPTA one-day pass to obtain the desired $2 all-day parking fee at that garage. In all fairness, it appears that space in downtown Newport is rather tight, and so finding space for a parking lot at the museum would have been difficult.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would definitely recommend it to tennis fans.