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By Randy Walker

@TennisPublisher

 

Most people these days know the tennis stadium at West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills only through old black and white photographs or film from when the U.S. Championships and U.S. Open was played there from 1923 to 1977.

Now the stadium is alight in full color with the Technicolor court of Mylan World TeamTennis covering its ground as professional tennis has returned to the site that was once the epicenter for tennis in the United States, saved from being turned into condos after decades of neglect.

The New York Empire is the new tenant at Forest Hills, the newest team franchise of World Team Tennis, the co-ed professional team tennis league created by Billie Jean King in the 1970s. Monday night, the team, coached by New York’s own Patrick McEnroe, took on Caroline Wozniacki and the Philadelphia Freedom (yes, Elton John wrote and sang the song about this team, when King was a player for them in 1975). The stadium will host six New York Empire matches in all this summer and also the World Team Tennis Finals on Friday, August 26 (go to www.NYEmpireTennis.com for more information.)

Looking onto the court, now painted with red alleys, purple backcourts, and green and blue service boxes that is synonymous with World TeamTennis, anyone who has followed anything about this sport’s history can feel the ghosts of the great players who once performed on this sacred stage of tennis. The first images that came to my mind was seeing the video of Rod Laver jumping over the net after beating Tony Roche to win the 1969 U.S. Open and his second “Grand Slam” or King and Evonne Goolagong playing one the greatest points one may ever see in the final of the 1974 U.S. Open. There are numerous news reels you can find on YouTube of Jack Kramer and Ken Rosewall and Maureen Connolly and Arthur Ashe and many others, making their mark in tennis history at this stadium.

In 1923, the stadium was christened with the playing of the first-ever Wightman Cup matches between the top women players from Great Britain and the United States. The Wightman Cup was named for tennis visionary, player and creator, Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman, one of the first leaders in women’s tennis, a predecessor to Billie Jean King.  A young Helen Wills, who would go on to win 19 major singles titles in her career (three shy of the current haul of Serena Williams and one more than Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova) played the first official match in the 14,000-seat stadium on August 11, 1923. In that first match, Wills won by a 6-2, 7-5 scoreline over Britain’s Kitty McKane, a name who Venus and Serena Williams will have on their mind at the Rio Olympics as both sisters are one Olympic medal shy of equaling her tennis record of five Olympic medals won in a career.

The name “Forest Hills” used to be synonymous with tennis. In fact, that is what players called the tournament in its heyday. You didn’t win “the U.S. Open,” you won “Forest Hills” – kind of like today’s French Open being referred to, and branded more as, “Roland Garros.” However, after the U.S. Open left the storied club in 1977, moving to a grandeur pasture of Flushing Meadows to keep up with the escalating growth and popularity of the game, the stadium endured a slow decline. The club did host the men’s WCT “Tournament of Champions” following the exit of the U.S. Open up until it was booted off the new ATP Tour calendar after 1989. The last ever WCT (World Championship Tennis) tournament, founded by tennis, soccer and football Hall of Famer Lamar Hunt, was held at Forest Hills in 1990 as a non-sanctioned “exhibition” tournament.

Ironically, it was not tennis that brought the West Side Tennis Club tennis stadium back to life, but music as concert promoter Mike Luba of Madison House Presents stepped in to refurbish the decaying stadium as a site for concerts, just days after the club’s membership narrowly voted against demolishing the stadium and turning the property into condos. On August 28, 2013, Mumford and Sons was the first act to play in the new refurbished stadium, that also once hosted such acts as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra among many others back in the day.

After three summers of music, the stadium’s originally intended tenant – tennis – has now rightfully returned with this first season of World TeamTennis.

 

Mylan World TeamTennis at Forest Hills

Mylan World TeamTennis at Forest Hills

 



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About Admin
Randy Walker is a communications and marketing specialist, writer, tennis historian and the managing partner of New Chapter Media – www.NewChapterMedia.com. He was a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Tennis Association’s marketing and communications division where he worked as the press officer for 22 U.S. Davis Cup ties, three Olympic tennis teams and was an integral part of USTA media services team for 14 US Opens. He is the author of the books ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY and THE DAYS OF ROGER FEDERER

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