Chris Nicholson

Writer & Editor

11 Intriguing Items at the International Tennis Hall of Fame

This summer the International Tennis Hall of Fame celebrates the distinguished careers of Germany's Steffi Graf, Sweden's Stefan Edberg and California's Dodo Cheney by honoring them as the Hall's newest enshrinees.

Also in 2004, the Hall of Fame celebrates its 50th anniversary. Founded in 1954 by James Van Alen, the Hall is the world's premier showcase for all that tennis has been and is today, from the outmoded to the modern, from the historical to the history-making, from the sepia-toned antiques of yesteryear to the vibrant colors of the 21st-century game.

Located at the Newport Casino in Newport, R.I., the ITHOF is a visual chronicle of tennis, a museum of the sport's curiosities, artifacts and photographs. In honor of the golden anniversary, USTA Magazine walks you through the hallowed halls of our sport's shrine and offers a glimpse at some of the more intriguing slices of history housed within.

1. The Newport Casino's famed Horseshoe Court is more than a pretty showpiece. It's a court that hosts recreational players from May through September. With a reservation, anyone can play on this grass court built in the 1960s. The court is in the Horseshoe Piazza, part of the original Casino construction in 1880.

2. Vitas Gerulaitis' Rickenbacker six-string was purchased by the ATP at a charity auction and later loaned to the Hall of Fame.

3. The official US Open trophies, when not at Flushing Meadows for the late-summer Grand Slam tournament, are kept protected and on display at the Hall of Fame.

4. The tennis shoes and news-making lycra catsuit that Puma designed for Serena Williams' title run at the 2002 US Open were a gift from Serena to the Hall of Fame.

5. In 2003 the Hall of Fame put on exhibit a collection of tennis ball containers dating back to the 1920s. The collection includes balls bagged in paper, tubed in cardboard and sealed in pressurized tin cans. Some of the containers have never been opened, still harboring tennis balls untouched since leaving the factory almost a century ago.

6. This 17th- or 18th-century French battoir, the earliest type of racquet known to exist, is in excellent condition with a vellum covering and sheepskin grip. It's one of only seven in the world, all of which were discovered together in 1989, spotted in a bucket at a London flea market.

7. Martina Navratilova loaned her collection of nine Wimbledon singles trophies (seen here with the Prince racquet she used in winning the 2003
Wimbledon mixed doubles title) to the Hall of Fame for a display honoring her induction in 2000. A few times since, the Hall of Fame has offered to return the trophies, but Navratilova has declined, content to have them on display in Newport.

8. One of the first displays encountered on a walk through the Hall is that of the document that started it all: Major Walter Clopton Wingfield's patent for ³a new and improved portable court for playing the ancient game of tennis.² The patent, granted in 1874 by England's Queen Victoria, refined court tennis into the game we know today.

9. In the early 1900s, horses were used for rolling grass tennis courts. To prevent hoof marks on the lawns, the equines were fitted with horseshoe boots, which helped distribute the horses' weight more evenly on the turf.

10. An early lawn tennis set circa 1879 includes, in a wood carrying case with a hinged top: racquets, a net, net posts, stakes, a mallet, balls and a rule book croquet lawn.

11. Ever wonder how to bend wood into a tool for taming a tennis ball? The Kent Racket Company of Massachusetts could have told you that it's a matter of wetting some ash, adding glue and pressing the wood into shape with a Racquet-Bending Machine. Kent, which produced the first American-made tennis racquets in the late 19th century, used this machine in 1876.

by Chris Nicholson
photography by Dean Batchelder
published in USTA Magazine, July/August 2004

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