Updated: Mar 5, 2021
During a time of coronavirus challenges, a visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame renews author's passion for the game.
The story originally appeared in Racquet Sports Industry magazine HERE.
By Steve Pratt
I opened two large wooden doors off bustling Bellevue Avenue and experienced the same rush of emotions Charlie Bucket must have felt walking into Willie Wonka’s famous chocolate factory. As a lifelong student of tennis’ grand history, the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., always seemed so far away from my Southern California base. But during a recent work trip, I found myself just 90 minutes west in Hartford, Conn.—with a rental car and 30 free hours. I had to make the trip to this tennis cathedral.
I stepping through the arched entrance of the Newport Casino to the immaculately groomed grass “Horseshoe Court” and instantly was transported back in time. I was at the site where Richard Sears won the first United States Nationals singles title in 1881.
I slowly walked a short distance to the museum entrance, then entered the building designed in 1880 by renowned architects Charles McKim and Stanford White. The Covid-19 pandemic has altered some procedures, but after a temperature check and signed waiver, I spent the next three hours immersed in tennis history.
I yearned to get back that feeling of deep love and reverence for the game that had been missing for the past seven months due to the pandemic. While the USTA managed to stage the 2020 US Open, I was only able to cover the matches for USOpen.org from the confines of my living room, rather than in person, as I had done for years. And I missed playing the game, hitting balls with my partner at the local courts.
But at this historic home of the world’s largest collection of tennis memorabilia, it all came flooding back.
In the first exhibit room, I passed tributes to the 259 Hall of Fame inductees from 27 countries. I continued through the museum, learning about the humble beginnings of the sport and marveling at the images and informational displays, such as the one honoring the trailblazers of women’s pro tennis. I experienced interactive digital exhibits. I sat behind a mic and called some of the most memorable points in tennis history.
And I watched abbreviated induction speeches from the stars of my youth—John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova—and realized how integral they were to me falling in love with the game as a teenager. I teared up as Tracy Austin graciously thanked her parents for instilling in her that same love of the game.
Next door to the Newport Casino is the restaurant La Forge, established in 1880. I sat outside, right next to the Horseshoe Court, nursing a Guinness and savoring the moment, visualizing what it must have been like all those years ago when tennis was in its infancy.
To my surprise, Hall of Fame CEO Todd Martin emerged from the museum on the other side of the court. “Looks like you’re having a great time,” he said.
I lifted my glass and nodded in agreement. He disappeared through the archway to Bellevue Avenue before I could tell him how my visit had renewed my passion for tennis and made me realize that not even a pandemic can put a damper on my love for this sport.
But, working in this hallowed place, with its historic lawns, I suspect he already knew that.