Is The Big 4 Era Coming To An End?

08-31-2014-0117Who would have thunk this one?

A US Open Men’s Final between Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic? With both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer going out on the same day?

Wow! Just Wow!

Furthermore, you have to wonder if this chain of events marks the decline of the Big 4 era in tennis, where the courts were ruled by Federer, Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.

You have to go back to 2005 when Marat Safin took out Lleyton Hewett in the Australian Open to find a Grand Slam Final without a member of the Big 4.

And you need to go back to 2003 when Andy Roddick won his only Slam to find no Big 4 members playing on the last day in Flushing.

” I think it’s exciting for the game, you know, to have different faces from time to time,” Federer said after his loss. “At the same time, I think people still enjoy seeing the guys they have seen for a while or often in the big matches. But I think it’s definitely refreshing to some extent. It’s big for Croatia and big for Japan I guess on some level, especially on sporting terms and tennis terms. Everybody who gets to this stage of this kind of a competition deserves to be there because they have put in the work and they hoped for the break, and this is it for both of them. I hope they can play a good final.”

The folks at CBS are probably not happy, since there are no Americans or household names in the finals. And unless you are a huge tennis fan, you probably won’t have the same interest.

However, this may be good for the sport. As much as tennis thrived, especially in Europe, with the Big 4 headlining and everyone else getting union scale, there is always room for change.

The sport needs new stars to come up through the rankings. With Federer clearly on the backside of his career, Nadal’s injuries, and Murray’s decline, it leaves Djokovic as the only member of the group on at the top of his game and he is going through changes in his personal life with marriage and a baby on the way.

Simply put the field has caught up to the varsity here. And it’s good to see others at the top. It’s good for tennis in general and interest in the sport in other parts of the work.

With Michael Change in his corner Nishkori looks like the next up and coming star in the sport.

“This is definitely huge for Japan,” Djokovic said. “It’s a big country. Over a hundred million people. This can definitely be a great encouragement for tennis in that country. He’s been around for last couple of years. He’s been making a lot of success. But playing finals of a Grand Slam and now fighting for title is definitely something different. You know, he has gotten to another level, and I’m sure that people will praise him.”

And Cilic, who dropped bombs on Federer out there has brought himself up to the top of the game.

” I just think he was quite erratic before,” Federer said. “You know, especially from the baseline. I think in some ways his game has little margin, I find, because he takes the ball early. If he doesn’t feel well on the half volleys it’s tough for him. But I feel like he’s cleaned up his return game to some degree. I think he’s serving much more consistent throughout an entire match and entire tournament; whereas before he could have a good day, bad day, good set, bad set. I think his mental approach has been one of always a true professional, always super fair play on the court. Always well-behaved. Always a guy I kind of liked watching play.”

So there you have it, a reason to watch on Monday. Too bad the American men’s varsity isn’t up to par, but maybe someday it will return.

In the meantime, a page may have turned and now let’s enjoy the next chapter of tennis’s book.

US Open Late Night

Mens FinalsCilicDef.Nishikori in straight setsTick tock. Tick tock.

There’s always a night of the US Open where we get clipped. An evening where a match for one reason or another goes to the wee hours of the morning.

Last night was that night.

It started out innocent enough with no rain and everything going off on time. The first match with Victoria Azarenka winning over Aleksandra Krunic went three sets.

And the second match between No. 5 seed Milos Raonic and No. 10 seed Kei Nishikori seemed innocent enough.

In the end, though, we witnessed history. The 5 set epic won by Nishikori 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-7(6), 7-5, 6-4 lasted four hours and 19 minutes and ended at 2:26 am, tying it for the latest ending in US Open History with John Isner’s first case of Kohlschreiber back in 2012 and in 1993, in a second-round match between Mats Wilander and Mikael Pernfors.

Sure the match was exciting, but the time in the press room under Arthur Ashe Stadium was even more interesting.

You could hear a sigh of relief from the 20 or so reporters left as the match completed. No one really cared who won, rather everyone just wanted to go home.

There were reporters sleeping at their desks and some even snoring pretty loud and the coffee flowed but since the coffee pots were not marked, we had to guess which one was regular and decaf. (The one on the right was regular).

As the match continued, this version of US Open Survivor became a test of wills. Some left, but when you invested this much time into a match, you had to stay to the end.

And there were times we thought we were getting out of there early. But Raonic couldn’t do it and Nishikori kept battling.

And when the fifth set started with about 34 minutes to go for the record, you were rooting for it just to go 35.

We didn’t get it. We got a tie and that’s good enough.

And it’s back to the grind today. Hopefully Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki will have better times today in their matches.

We can only hope.

Tick Tock…

 

Caroline Should Spell It “Woz-NY-Acki”

Women's Finals, Wozniacki loses to Serena WilliamsEven though she’s from Denmark, Caroline Wozniacki should be a New Yorker. She loves it here, especially playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium at night.

“It’s so different, because you walk out and you basically can’t see the top stands,” she said after making easy work of Sara Errani, 6-0 6-1 to advance to the US Open Semifinals. “The crowd is always cheering even a little louder and it feels a little more cozy as well at the same time because it’s dark around. I don’t know. There is just something special about that atmosphere.”

Then there’s the Marathon, but that’s a story for November.

There’s something special about her tennis game. Older, wiser and maybe with a little to prove, Wozniacki is back in the Final Four for the first time since 2011 and looking to make the Finals for the first time since 2009.

“I have to say the finals [in 2009] feels closer than the semifinals 2011,” she said. “It’s weird. I don’t know. I don’t know. I think just because it was such a huge experience for me and it was my first really deep run in a Grand Slam. I’m just so happy to be back in this stage and having another match out there.”

She said her game has evolved, because of that she has an actual shot to win the whole match.

Wozniacki seems different. She’s confident and in the best shape of her career.

And it helps that Golfer That Must Not Be Named won a few majors this year in his sport.

However, she’s not talking about that, but old Rory obviously looms out there and it gives her purpose. And maybe some focus on the task at hand.

That includes the evolution of her game.

“It’s definitely evolved,” she said. “I’m definitely more experienced. I know my game much better. I have been in these big matches before, and, you know, I think all the time I improve. I think everybody improves and wants to try and get better. Women’s tennis keeps getting stronger. So, you know, I think I keep putting things onto my game. I try and, you know, have more — or stronger serves, better returns, you know, kind of the first few points.

It remains to be seen if she can beat Serena, but first has to take out Peng Shuai, who beat Belinda Belcic today.

“She’s been playing well,” she said. “She’s playing aggressively. She she’s strong from both sides. She’s been serving well. It’s going to be a difficult match. It’s going to be a different match than against Sara today. Sara runs a lot of balls down, doesn’t make many mistake. Peng is closer to the baseline going for her shots more. It’s going to be a hard one, but, again, it’s going to fun.”

That’s what she seems to be having again. If she gets through the Chinese veteran, then who knows? Serena is obviously the favorite, the No. 1 seed has imploded before.

And maybe, just maybe, the girl who no one expected to do anything this tournament will call Flushing Meadows home.

 

The Koz with Stefan Kozlow

Stefan Kozlov is an American Player to watch. At age 14 he was the youngest player in the Wimbledon Junior Championships and the Junior US Open. He has already turned professional and collected his first ATP points. Dave “Koz” Kozlowski recently caught up with the American rising star.

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Federer’s First ATP Match Victory

Today, September 30, 1998, is a fascinating anniversary in the career of Roger Federer, as outlined by Randy Walker, author of the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY (www.TennisHistoryBook.com)

September 30, 1998: Seventeen-year-old Roger Federer defeats Guillaume Raoux of France 6-2, 6-2 in the first round in Toulouse for his first ATP singles match victory. Rene Stauffer, in his book Roger Federer: Quest for Perfection, summarizes Federer’s achievement, “Yet, before the chase for the year-end No. 1 junior ranking reached its decisive phase, the unexpected happened. Federer achieved his first great breakthrough on the ATP Tour. With a ranking of No. 878, he traveled to Toulouse, France at the end of September and, to his own surprise, advanced through the qualifying rounds to progress into the main draw of the tournament. In only his second ATP tournament, the 17-year-old registered an upset victory over No. 45-ranked Guillaume Raoux of France—his first ATP match victory—allowing the Frenchman just four games. In the next round, Federer proved this win was not a fluke by defeating former Australian Davis Cup star Richard Fromberg 6-1, 7-6 (5). In the quarterfinals—his sixth match of the tournament including matches in the qualifying rounds—Federer lost to Jan Siemerink 7-6 (5), 6-2, with a throbbing thigh injury hampering him during the match. The Dutchman was ranked No. 20 and went on to win the tournament two days later, but Federer was also handsomely rewarded. He received a prize money check for $10,800 and passed 482 players in the world rankings in one tournament—moving to No. 396.”

The Koz with Jameson Corsillo

Nine year old Jameson Corsillo of Boca Raton, FL is a “Rising Star” recently winning the Little Mo International.

He already has had a life time of mind-boggling tennis experiences from playing in exhibitions with John McEnroe, Andy Roddick and also with Bob & Mike Bryans to being featured in Sports Illustrated sports kid and doing a photo shoot on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Nicknamed “The Bullet” because of his incredible speed, he has massed nearly 100 trophies for Tennis, baseball, soccer, basketball & BMX Bike racing.

The fearless tike has a dream to ride every single roller coaster around the world when he’s on the ATP world tour!

Dave “KOZ” Kozlowski caught up with the young champion for a phone interview.

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Roger Federer’s Tales with Tiger Woods and Pete Sampras

Swiss journalist and author Rene Stauffer brings readers back to Roger Federer’s meeting with Tiger Woods and how Federer was not quick to respond to a text message from Pete Sampras after winning the 2006 US Open in his celebrated book ROGER FEDERER: QUEST FOR PERFECTION (New Chapter Press, $19.95, www.RogerFedererBook.com), the first U.S.-published book on the Swiss tennis champion. The excerpt from the 2006 US Open is provided below.

When Tiger Woods achieved the “Tiger Slam” in 2000 and 2001—winning all four of golf’s major championships in a row—Roger Federer was not yet 20 years old. The way that Woods dominated golf and reignited interest in the sport certainly caught the attention of the young Federer. However, he never thought that he would ever be compared to someone as dominant as Woods. “His story is completely different from mine,” he said in the spring of 2006. “Even as a kid his goal was to break the record for winning the most majors. I was just dreaming of just once meeting Boris Becker or being able to play at Wimbledon some time.”

Despite their different developments and the differences between their sports, the commonalities between Woods and Federer became unmistakable through the years. Like the four-time Masters champion, Federer is in full pursuit of sports history. While Woods is pursuing Jack Nicklaus and his 18 major championships, Federer is chasing Pete Sampras and his 14 Grand Slam singles titles. Both Woods and Federer are amazing because of their mental resilience, which is evident from the fact that they manage to make the most terrific shots under the greatest of difficulties.

Unlike his parents, Roger Federer is not a passionate golfer, but he follows Woods’ career with great interest. “It would be interesting to meet him and to see what he’s like in person,” Federer said in Key Biscayne in 2006.

Both Federer and Woods are clients of the International Management Group (IMG) and Federer’s agent, Tony Godsick, is friends with Mark Steinberg, the agent of Woods. In the summer of 2006, Federer asked Godsick if he could arrange a meeting with Woods. “The next thing I heard was that Woods would be delighted to come to the US Open final,” Federer recollected. “At that time the tournament hadn’t even started. I would have preferred meeting him in a more relaxed atmosphere than on the day of the US Open final—and I still had to get there first.”

The public had no idea that a spectacular meeting was in the making behind the scenes at the US Open. After Federer defeated the Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the semifinals, he was informed that Woods was going to make good on his promise. He flew to New York from Florida on his private jet with his wife, Elin, to watch the US Open final in person. To everyone’s surprise, Woods took a seat in Federer’s guest box—which was quite noteworthy given the fact that Federer faced an American, Andy Roddick, in the final. “The fact that Tiger was sitting there put me under extra pressure,” Federer later admitted. “It was just like when I was younger when my parents or Marc Rosset watched me play in person. You want to play especially well.”

Woods’ timing was perfect. He watched and cheered as Federer won his third straight US Open title, defeating the resurgent Roddick 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. For the third year in a row, Federer won both Wimbledon and the US Open—a record that he didn’t have to share with anyone.

While Federer briefly met Woods before the final, the two spent well over an hour together in the locker room following the match, drinking Champagne and gazing at the US Open trophy that Federer just won. Woods even talked on the phone to Federer’s parents who were at home in bed as it was nearly three in the morning in Switzerland.

“I was impressed by how much we had in common,” Federer explained when Woods was on his way back to Florida. “He knew exactly what I was going through and I see what he has to go through. I’ve never spoken with anybody who was so familiar with the feeling of being invincible.”

“It was terrific for me to see him go into my player’s box, shake his fist, and enjoy himself,” he recollected a few weeks later. “He was the loudest one in my box. I was surprised how loose he was about it. He was happy as a kid to be able to watch the final. I think we’ll do things together more often.”

The appearance of Woods at the 2006 US Open final sparked more comparisons—and debates—between the two “athletes of the century” as to who was greater and more dominant. With all due respect to Woods, James Blake came out in favor of Federer. “In tennis, it’s a tournament where you have one bad day and you’re out,” said Blake. “That’s what we do every single week. Roger is winning every Grand Slam except for the French, winning every Masters Series tournament. That means he can’t have one bad day—that’s incredible. Not to mention he has to be out here for four hours running as opposed to walking while carrying one club—again not taking anything away from golf. Tiger’s proven himself every Sunday every time he has a lead. But look at Roger’s record in Grand Slam finals, too. In Grand Slam finals, he’s 8-1. That’s unheard of.”

The Woods camp and golf fans pointed out that the American, in contrast to Federer, already won all four major tournaments in his sport and instead of only having to defeat seven opponents at the biggest tournaments, Woods had to fight off around 150 contenders. Tennis aficionados emphasized that Grand Slam tournaments lasted two weeks and not just four days and that in tennis, having an off day is enough to get knocked out whereas in golf, players could always save the day in such a situation.

Still others highlighted the commonalities between the two. “Despite their total dominance, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer show a modest self-discipline that would have impressed the most chivalrous medieval knight,” The Daily Telegraph of Britain wrote. The Calgary Sun stated unequivocally which of the two super athletes it favored—“(Federer) is infinitely more human than Tiger Woods, more precise, more likable, more honest, less robotic, seemingly enjoying his place as a tennis player for the ages.” The Daily News of Los Angeles, by contrast, questioned all of these comparisons. “You say the Swiss dude is definitely the greatest tennis player of all time? Good, then we can switch back to the Bengals-Chiefs. Equating Roger Federer to Tiger Woods isn’t a backhanded compliment, it’s a forehanded insult. An athlete of Federer’s all-around refinement deserves better than to be defined in terms of another athlete.”

After his US Open victory, Federer returned home to Switzerland when he received a surprise phone call. Pete Sampras, whose legacy and records were now one of Federer’s biggest rivals, called to offer congratulations. “He had already text messaged me three days ago and now he was calling me to congratulate me personally,” said Federer shortly after the US Open. “He asked if I had gotten the message. I said I was just about to reply. It was almost embarrassing. Perhaps I should have replied quicker.” Sampras told Federer how much he liked to watch him play and emphasized that he now was more clearly dominant than he was during his prime. “To hear something like this from him was incredible,” Federer said. “It’s never happened to me before that my earlier idol called me to compliment me.”

Sampras and Federer continued their text message relationship, with Sampras offering more good wishes over the following few months. Before the tournament in Indian Wells in March of 2007, Federer then took the initiative and called Sampras, who meanwhile announced he was returning to competitive tennis on the Champions circuit run by his contemporary Jim Courier. Federer asked Sampras if he would like to hit some balls and train together. “I wanted to see how well he could still play because, after all, he was one of my favorite players growing up,” Federer explained. With a wink in his eye and devilish grin, he then said, “beating him in his backyard in Wimbledon was so special to me, so I wanted to try and beat him in his house.”

Federer and Sampras only played once during their careers—the memorable round of 16 match at Wimbledon in 2001. Late in Pete’s career, the two had one brief practice session together in Hamburg. “It started to rain,” Federer recollected. “I was so disappointed, but he was happy to get off.”

After their training session together in Los Angeles in the spring of 2007, Federer expressed his surprise at how well Sampras could still keep up during their practice session. “We played some great sets and tie-breaks. I’m glad to see that he’s actually still enjoying tennis.” The scores of these practice matches? “They’re secret,” Federer said. “Surprisingly, he was very good, but not good enough to beat me!”

Federer found that he and Sampras shared many commonalities and could talk in great detail of their respective lives and pressures on the tour, as well as common experiences, experiences at particular tournaments and even about players who they both played against. With Woods, this was not the case. “Pete and I played the same tournaments and even played against the same opponents,” Federer said. “I have much more in common with Pete than I have with Tiger off court.”

“When I was new on the tour, I hardly ever spoke to Pete,” he continued. “First of all, he was never around at the courts, and when he would come into the locker room, everything was quiet because he was respected so much by all the other players.” Several years later, Federer finally got a chance to find out what made Sampras so unique and what brought him so close to perfection.

 

Guide To USTA League Tennis

It’s “Championship Season” in the world of U.S. Tennis Association League Tennis as its championships are determined throughout the fall season. Tony Serksnis has been playing USTA League Tennis for over 25 years and authored the book “A PLAYER’S GUIDE TO USTA LEAGUE TENNIS” available here about the ins and outs of playing on a club, town, school or league tennis team. The following is Serksnis’s introduction to the book, available exclusively to Tennis Ledger readers.

 

I hve been playing tennis in the United States Tennis Association’s League Tennis program since I moved to Mountain View, California in 1985. However, my tennis “roots” are from playing summers as a teen in Cleveland, Ohio. I wish I still had my original wooden Wilson racquet, which had one of those “racquet anti-warp” guards. It was one where you were always tightening and un-tightening the screws to make sure your racquet didn’t get a twisted head due to humidity in those regions of the Midwest. I can also recall using a single (white!) tennis ball for an entire summer. We didn’t have money to be “extravagant” with such things as tennis balls.

Upon arriving in Mountain View, I could see many public court parks that looked inviting to play at. Mountain View also had a tennis club that was mainly social at the time. After joining that club (dues were only $20 per year), I was quick to make friends with the other club members and participated in ladders and club tournaments. It wasn’t long before I noticed that there was some sort of “league play” which turned out to be the USTA League Tennis program and the club sponsored teams at a few levels.

Back in those days, we were given National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) ratings individually by USTA officials. One would gather with several other individuals in search of their “correct” rating, play perhaps 15 minutes, and your rating was established. I started with an NTRP rating of 3.5. I did fairly well, and in two years, I got bumped up to 4.0. I stayed at that level for 23 years (yes, 23 years!) until 2009, when I was moved to a 4.5 rating at the age of 63. That is something I am very proud of. Today, NTRP ratings occur without “external verification” in that one self-rates against published guidelines. After playing a few matches, and definitely after an entire season of competitive play, one gets a computer rating based upon one’s record and “strength-of-opponent.”

League tennis has then been a serious part of my life. I used to run marathons, with tennis being a healthy “alternative” exercise, but now (due to knees being pounded by over 20 marathons) tennis is my main exercise and hobby. I hope to continue league play for as long as my body holds up and league play still remains fun. Since league play is based on playing people with similar abilities, even if one’s level decreases over the years, one can continue to compete at possibly lower levels. Players can have any skill level before their very first rating. As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t played much tennis at all before getting an official rating and starting league play. Others may have been on high school teams or even played in college. Thus, USTA League Tennis provides for the entire range of beginning skill levels.

My viewpoint is from a player who plays in sunny California, where we are indeed fortunate to experience very tennis-friendly weather for most of the year. Here, the rainy season lasts for a short period at the beginning of the calendar year. This could lead to a rather narrow view of the entire USTA . One thing is for certain – the competition level doesn’t diminish beyond the Northern California region. Every USTA team steps out on to the court with the hopes of both winning and having an enjoyable experience.

In those 20-plus years of playing USTA League Tennis, I’ve served as team member, captain, and co-captain. In my first season, our team was fortunate enough to actually win our league and qualify for our local district championship and then went on to qualify for the USTA Northern California Sectional Championships. However, we were denied in our attempt to qualify for the USTA League Tennis National Championships. I’ve decided to position this book from the captain’s perspective. The captain certainly must function as an organizer, leader and motivational coach to the rest of the team. All of that for no overt compensation other than knowing that this was the best one could do. Most of the time, the captain is also a player, so while also trying to lead the team, the captain is also trying to improve their own game as player. The captain could be looked upon as the CEO & CFO of the team.

My first thought was to write (and title) the book from a “captain’s viewpoint” but I believe that all players of the USTA will find the book of value and thus, this is a “Players Guide.” I believe that if all players who are members of a USTA team look at the team from the perspective of the captain, the team will be richer for that perspective.

The United States Tennis Association defines its League Tennis program as follows; “USTA League Tennis is organized, competitive team play for women and men age 18 and older of all abilities and experience. Whether you’re new to the game or a former college player, there’s a spot for you. Teams are made up of a minimum of five to eight players depending upon division. Teams and matches are set up according to NTRP ratings, so your teammates and opponents will be at your skill level. The competition is exciting, the atmosphere is social, and since players compete on teams, you have a built-in cheering section. Teams compete in four national divisions: Adult, Senior, Super Senior, and Mixed Doubles. The format features singles and doubles matches for adult leagues, and three doubles for seniors, super seniors, and mixed leagues.”

I would add that USTA League Tennis is a way for people, who have just taken up the game of tennis, to play the sport in a competitive format. The USTA sets up this competitive format at various levels of skill, so that a person just needs to join and participate on a team to enjoy the competition. Playing against people of similar skill, who also are trying to win for their teams, will certainly improve one’s own personal skills. It is a major charter of USTA League Tennis to permit tennis players to work on improving their personal tennis skills through a competitive (yet fun) environment. Any level of player is given the chance to compete against like-skilled players in a team environment.

USTA League Tennis is an organized way to compete at your own particular level. Thus, one just needs to join a team and the USTA will set up leagues within a local geographical area where the team can win local leagues and progress all the way to a national championship. There are few other sports that allow competition to continue beyond winning their local and regional championships and lead to a recognized national championship. If a tennis-playing person moves from one “region” (or state) to another, USTA League Tennis provides an organized and consistent method to participate in a league that has uniform rules across the USA. As the USTA has 17 geographical regions within the USA, a player can expect a consistent set of league-playing rules and skill-level consistency throughout the entire league.

USTA League Tennis is fun. It’s a low-expense hobby with a decent chance of improving one’s fitness through competitive play. There is a social aspect to it in that one can pull for one’s teammates and acquire a healthy respect for the skill of the opposition. Also, the USTA rules as stated in this book could be slightly different for your particular USTA Section, or may change slightly from year to year. The team captain should actually review the USTA rules for their USTA Section each year and print those rules out to keep with them. When issues arise during a match, the rules can be quoted to help resolve that issue. The USTA general rules are meant to cover all players in the USTA , but some different “interpretations” are offered by each USTA Section.

Each player of the game of tennis should be familiar with all of the basic rules so that they can contribute towards issue resolution. I’ve found that tennis players (with rare exception) are not prone to arguments even under extreme “important match considerations.” If every USTA League Tennis match being played under a USTA sanction resulted in a negative aftermath, I’m sure the league wouldn’t be growing in members as it has. Tennis remains a game that is largely self-umpired, and 99 percent of the players “get it right” and thus the game continues to be an overall enjoyable experience.

The USTA ’s national website is www.usta.com. I’m sure all USTA players are already familiar with the site. It is certainly full of the most up-to-date information of a more general nature. In addition, each USTA Section has its own website. For example, for the Northern California (Norcal) Section, it is www.norcal.usta.com. That site would have the most information on the local league schedules, rule interpretations, and events in one’s local area. The rules, of course, must be consistent across the USTA , but I would check one’s local USTA Section’s website as they clarify certain rules for their area. I’d also like to encourage any reader of this book to consult these rules directly as I may have inadvertently put an incorrect interpretation on the particular rule for a USTA Section.

There are over 300,000 league participants throughout the USTA ’s 17 Sections, and I salute them all. I hope you enjoy my book and take something away from this that can help you and your team. Best of luck!

Tony Serksnis

Mountain View, Calif.

The Koz with Bud Collins

The Koz had the pleasure to interview Bud Collins at the US Open last week for Indie Tennis and Tennis Ledger.

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Roof Top Tennis in Manhattan

While New York may be labeled as a tennis town, based on the popularity and buzz of the US Open tennis championships, it is a rather difficult place to play tennis. With a lack of real estate – or the value of real estate on the island of Manhattan – tennis courts are not seen as the best use of space. So where can you place a tennis court? How about on top of a roof! Here’s the story on how Manhattan’s Town Tennis Club was founded by 1931 Wimbledon champion Sidney Wood in his book “THE WIMBLEDON FINAL THAT NEVER WAS… AND OTHER TENNIS TALES FROM A BYGONE ERA” ($14.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com, available for sale here.

In 1952, with the increase in building in New York City fast decimating its numerous empty-lot tennis courts, I got the urge to look into the possibility of utilizing open rooftop areas to save Manhattan’s tennis mavens from settling for racquetball. I knew of no previous exploration of this concept and concentrated my survey on primarily lower buildings.

I could go on ad nauseam, but the final result was the fortuitous discovery of the one time, two-story Doelger Brewery in the upscale Sutton Place area of Manhattan. The street-level space owned by Bill Doelger was occupied by the FBI for a garage on 56th Street. An even luckier find was that the three hi-rise apartment houses that bordered the site to the north and east could not be built on.

Bill immediately saw that a four-court, live action tennis landscape, center-pieced by a remodeled, glass-encased second floor of the brewery as a clubhouse and outer terrace, would be a unique, scenic enhancement for his present and projected buildings. My layout design for a not-for-profit club went straight to his architects, who advised that among the multiple code violations that the project would face, the Doelger’s East 56th Street apartment entrance – the only feasible entry we could have for the club – was a no-chance approval item.  It looked like curtains for us.

But having recruited New York’s Mayor, my friend Bob Wagner, as one of our club’s governors, I asked him if there was any kind of hardship plea worth pursuing. Bob guffawed  and said, “Sid, the city needs tennis courts.” I immediately phoned Bill Doelger who said he wanted to kiss me.

So this and multiple other ensuing code violations were summarily quashed and after phoning the Mayor’s secretary, Mary, a few times for his signature in response to the NYC Building Department code violations, she suggested that I simply initial his name!

I’m reasonably certain that ours was the first-ever rooftop tennis installation, and at present day is still in business. Some of my purist tennis pals may look upon me as a rules and regulation “Benedict Arnold” for the liberties I took to squeeze four courts into an area that was never intended to accommodate them. With 100 feet of width (half a block) to fit pairs of side-by-side, playable doubles courts and leave enough room for the fencing and for the fat lady to pass between the net posts, called for a bit of nimble doings. It came down to cutting nine inches off each outside alley line, (from 4 ft. 6 in. to 3 ft. 9 in.) It’s hard to believe, but year after year nobody, including a succession of top-level players on the Church Cup team, the senior version of the Davis Cup, ever had a clue.

Sorry about that, fellows!

With the club humming, my wife Pat suggested that we add a 40 by 80 foot ice rink atop our sitting room, aeons before the Donald Trump-built Central Park skating area came into existence. Even Olympic gold medal winner Dick Button would occasionally drop by for a sunny day spin.