By Randy Walker
The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in the Long Island community of Uniondale, N.Y. is the new home of an ATP tennis tournament starting in 2018.
The former home of the NHL’s New York Islanders and the then ABA’s New York Nets will be the new home of an ATP World Tour 250 level event that was previously held in Memphis, Tennessee for 42 years.
The official press release stated that the Nassau Coliseum hosting the ATP event “marks the first time in its 45-year history that the Coliseum will play host to a sanctioned tennis tournament” which I came to discover is incorrect.
I found an article online from the New York Times written by Parton Keese entitled “Newcombe, Richey Overcome Bumpy Coliseum Tennis Courts” which perked my interest. For starters, Cliff Richey is my good friend and client, my New Chapter Press book publishing company having published his two books “Acing Depression” and “Your Playbook For Beating Depression.” Second, it sounded like something quirky was going on with the “bumpy” courts.
Keese wrote in the Feb. 20, 1974 edition of the New York Times that because the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders NHL hockey game could not be rescheduled during the event, the tournament had to be played on two “lumpy” tennis courts spread over the ice.
Wrote Keese, “Bad bounces, unhappy. players and complaints uttered in eight languages” highlighted the opening day of play at the event that was part of Lamar Hunt’s World Championship Tennis tour.
“At first the players roared with laughter when a ball hit a bad spot and slithered or shot straight up,” wrote Keese. “Later the laughter turned to sardonic smiles, then to perplexed gazes, and finally to outright indignation.”
“We paid $9,000 extra to put the boards over the ice and tape the Supreme Court surface to that,” Irving Krichman, tournament director, told Keese. “Montreal refused to play the game a day earlier, so we had to put up with these conditions.”
John Newcombe, the No. 2 player in the world at the time, “treated the inconveniences as a joke,” according to Keese, in his 6‐3, 6‐1 win over Frank Froehling. Keese wrote that top American player Clark Graebner took the conditions “as an affront to professionals” in his loss to Barry Phillips‐Moore of Australia, 7‐6, 7‐6.
I laughed when I read Keese wrote that Richey “growled his way” to a 6‐4, 6‐4 triumph over Dick Crealy of Australia” knowing that Cliff was an intense and ornery guy during his days on the tour, not completely unrelated to his depression, as he documents in his inspiring and also entertaining “Acing Depression” book. Keese reported that Crealy “became suspicious of the court’s dimensions and got down on his knees to measure the lines with his racquet.”
Keese wrote that this was the first tennis tournament in the Coliseum. The crowd for the opening day of the event was only 1,650 in the cavernous arena, but the matches on this day started at 9 am and ended at about 5 pm to prepare for the hockey game that night. The following day, the tennis was again played earlier to make way for the eventual ABA Champion New York Nets basketball game.
I called Richey to see what else he knew about this event and to see if he had some funny anecdotes or stories about the conditions.
“I have absolutely no memory of that tournament,” Cliff dead-panned when I reached him by phone.
I told him that I looked up the entire draw for the event. He lost in the quarterfinals to Brian Fairlie of New Zealand.
“I don’t remember that match at all,” he said. “I played about 100 WCT events in a four-year period.”
I then told him the final of the tournament was Stan Smith against John Newcombe, a rematch of the Wimbledon final from three years earlier won by Newcombe in five sets. Smith gained some revenge for that loss, beating Newcombe for his 28th career singles title in Long Island with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win.
“Oh, maybe I remember something,” Cliff piped in. “I practiced with Torben Ulirich. I remember a reporter came up to him on the practice court and asked if he could interview him. Torben said yes, but we kept practicing. After a while, the reporter interrupted us hitting and said ‘Mr. Ulrich, I have a deadline.’ Torben then said ‘I have dead lines too….All over my body.’ Other than that, I don’t remember anything.”
There you have it, the tournament that time forgot.
Through my Google searches, it appears it was one and done with this WCT stop at the Nassau Coliseum, the event not returning for another try. The controversy with the courts, the ice and sharing the arena with the Islanders and the hardwood with the Nets was perhaps was too much to juggle. This certainly will not be a problem in the 2018 incarnation as pro tennis is well beyond its infant days in 1974, just the sixth real season of professional “open” tennis.
Nassau Coliseum recently reopened following a nearly two-year, $165 million renovation and will host the tournament for the first time from February 10-18, 2018. Like Memphis, this yet-to-be named event will be the only indoor ATP event contested in the United States.