The International Hall of Fame inducts its “class of 2014” this weekend, which makes me wonder how Nick Bollettieri, one of the honorees, is going to make it to the 25th reunion of this class.
Nick is 82. But knowing him, he’ll probably drive a red T-top Camaro to the reunion, and do a clinic for the kids before the party.
If you’ve never been to Newport during this festive week, pencil it in for next summer. The ATP 250 Hall of Fame Championships is also played in this first week after Wimbledon, and that gives all those male U.S. players still licking their wounds from the beatings they took at Wimbledon a chance to regain a bit of self-esteem. Watching tennis on grass courts is simply an unbeatable experience; it’s like tennis in HD compared to mere color (clay) or black-and-white (hard).
The week winds up with the singles and doubles final and the official induction ceremony. It’s funny but most players don’t think or talk too much about the ITHF. And the Europeans profess not to care at all. That helps explain why the hall-of-fame concept hasn’t caught on as fully as it has here in the U.S. in those other sports, Major League Baseball and the National Football League. They’re revered, by pretty much everyone.
But note that every player elected to the ITHF with the exception of Bjorn Borg has made it to the induction, and in many cases melted into a blubbering, teary mess while trying to make it through his or her acceptance speed. That’s how you know that somehow, this hall of fame thing is big deal.
Here are the inductees for this year:
Recent Player: Lindsay Davenport — Gifted young pros often pay lip service to the idea of living a “normal” life, yet almost all of them decide that they don’t want to do it all that much, not when there are opponents to squash and money to be won. Young Lindsay was a true exception.
A true prodigy, at age 15 she had a win over veteran pro Sandrine Testud in a WTA event and later played in her first U.S. Open — a tournament she would win seven years later. Yet she remained in school and a full three years — and many pro matches and a few titles later — she declined to train for Wimbledon (where she was seed No. 9) because she didn’t want to miss her her high-school graduation ceremony Murietta, Ca.
After flinging her mortarboard high into the air, Davenport caught a redeye to London, arriving early Sunday morning, and on Tuesday she won her first round match.
To Davenport that was no big deal. While self-effacing and at times painfully self-conscious about her height and weight (6-foot-2, she shed some 30 pounds about five years into her pro career), Davenport had a sharp wit and a down-to-earth personality. She was the girl next door who never did become a fame monster.
The combination of Davenport’s self-consciousness and mellow, SoCal attitude almost certainly cost her a number of Grand Slam titles. She won three in her career, lacking only a French Open to capture a career Grand Slam. She also won the gold medal in singles at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Still, this was a relatively modest output, given that Davenport also finished the year ranked No. 1 on the WTA computer four different times — a record that puts her in the heady company of only Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, and Martina Navratilova.
Davenport, now 37, who was known for her beautifully grooved and disciplined, flat strokes, was ranked No. 1 on eight different occasions for a grand total of 98 weeks. She won 55 singles and 38 doubles titles in a career spanning 17 years. She missed all the Grand Slams of 2007 while she was on maternity leave. After giving birth to a son, Jagger, she returned to play one more year, during which she won two events — Auckland and Memphis. But she made it as far as the third round only once. She conceived another child and that ended her comeback at age 32.
Davenport’s finest moment, in my eyes at least, was the epic Wimbledon final she played against Venus Williams in 2005. It was a glorious, see-saw three-setter choc-a-bloc with exceptional shot making by both women. Williams ultimately won it, 9-7 in the third, but Davenport retired with a 14-13 head-to-head edge. She fared less well against Serena Williams, who finished ahead, 10-4.
Recent Player: Chantal Vandierendonck — This Dutch woman’s pioneering accomplishments in wheelchair tennis loom particularly large given that she’s considered a “high para,” a designation indicating that her disability is significantly higher than that of some other competitors. Now 41, Vandierendonck was the ITF world champion three times, and she raked in five Paralympic medals, including a singles gold when the wheelchair game was a demonstration sport at the 1998 games in Seoul, Korea.
Contributor: Nick Bollettieri — It took Bollettieri a surprisingly long time to get into the ITHF, partly because to some of the old guard he seemed too flamboyant and self-promoting. But the octogenarian is in now, and overjoyed by having been embraced at last by the establishment he helped transform.
His “contribution” was named Andre Agassi and Jim Courier, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova, and Tommy Haas. In all, Bollettieri had developed and/or coached 10 former world No. 1 players. Bollettieri transformed the nature of tennis coaching, and the game itself, with his eponymous tennis academy (now the IMG Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy). Simply put, the institution raised the bar for coaches everywhere. Bollettieri also played an out-sized role in the way today’s the game is played, having pioneered the the emphasis on the aggressive baseline game anchored in a powerful forehand.
Some of you know all this, but what you may not know is that some of Bollettieri’s most ardent supporters are relatively unsung players like Max Mirnyi, Ivo Karlovic, and others to whom the IMG NBTA has been a second home. They simply love the man.
Contributer: Jane Brown Grimes — To put it succinctly, Brown Grimes has been everywhere that is anywhere in the pro game, and she’s among a handful of people who helped enormously in the transition to the Open tennis we have today. She’s had leadership roles at the USTA, The WTA, and the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
From January 2007 until December of 2008, Brown Grimes was Chairman of the Board and President of the USTA. During her tenure, the USA won the Davis Cup and helped push USTA membership over the 700,000 mark, and she helped launch the USTA QuickStart tennis program for children.
Contributor: John Barrett — Barrett is half of just the second married couple in the ITHF; the other half is former no. 1 Angela Mortimer Barrett. A former player and British Davis Cupper, Barrett played many roles in tennis, from entrepreneur and business executive with Slazenger to editor of the BP “World of Tennis” (for many years the bible of the sport) to his most visible occupation, Wimbledon commentator from 1971 to 2006 for the host BBC network.
The other couple enshrined in the hall-of-fame? Two youngsters named Agassi and Graf. Barrett is in pretty good company, but so is everyone else in the august institution.