Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The U.S. Tennis Open

Now that the 2016 Open is in the history books it's a good time to reflect on memories and some of the changes that have taken place over the past half century in the tennis world. 

Philadelphia has always been a great tennis town. In earlier days private clubs dominated the scene ranging from World War One with the immortal R. Norris “Dick” Williams (a survivor of the Lusitania disaster) to the 1950s and Davis Cup stalwart Vic Seixas. Both were Merion Cricket Club members. The tennis legend Bill Tilden played out of the Germantown Cricket Club where he had a private court for play and practice. Nowadays the club's swimming pool marks that site.

My own love of the game started when my tennis-playing Aunt Catherine gifted me with a wooden Bancroft racquet purchased from Mitchell & Ness, the mecca for sporting goods. It was strung in gut, the best possible in the late 1940s.  Aunt Catherine was a take-no-prisoners player due in part to the fact she had to work even as she raised her son. A rarity in those times. That weapon served me well during my collegiate career on the courts.

I started officiating matches in the 1950s along with two other guys from suburban Philadelphia, Brooks Keffer and Don Belcher. Our umpiring duties took us to the West Side Tennis Club in the Tudor styled neighborhood of Forest Hills, New York. The U.S. National Championships were held there prior to the opening of the new Billy Jean King tennis complex. You can't compare the two venues. Apples and oranges. The national center is a concrete giant of ever-expanding wonder; The West Side Tennis Club an intimate setting. Keffer and I used to take the train from 30th Street Station to Forest Hills and the tennis aficionado's paradise. We'd return tired and suntanned at day's end. All the big names played in the championship of course so we had ample opportunity to see the Greats in action. The environment of the West Side Tennis Club setting also gave us easy access to the players in addition to sumptuous luncheons and what amounted to an open bar.  These perks more than offset the meager $8 we were paid for a full day's work calling lines.

Brooks has since departed for the Great Tennis Court in the Sky, but my memories of Mr. Keffer and the championships at Forest Hills are evergreen. Never more so than at this time of year when the U.S. Open is in full swing.

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