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.

Serena Wins Fourth US Open

Serena Williams collapsed to the tennis court and then jumped for joy after she won her fourth US Open of her career yesterday. The 15th Grand Slam victory of her career wasn’t as easy as it seemed at the beginning, and Williams was actually two points away from losing her second-straight US Open final.

Serena dominated the first set of the matchup, winning 6-2, and breaking the serve of her opponent, 23-year old Victoria Azarenka, ranked #1 in the world, three times. It appeared that the 30-year old Williams would win the final easily, without losing a set to any opponent, something she also accomplished in 2002 on her way to the US Open title. But Azarenka stormed back to take the second set 6-2, to create the first US Open Women’s final to go to a third set in 17 years.

Williams and Azarenka traded breaks in the third and final set, and Azarenka was in control, up 5-3 and a break. At 30-30, Williams took over, holding serve, then breaking Azarenka to tie the set at five, then held serve again before converting a final break that crowned her the champion.

Serena talked about her opponent being two points away from handing her defeat after the match. “At 30-all I figured I could serve out and just make her serve for it…after that, I thought I could just force another game and obviously never give up. I never, never quit. I have come back so many times in so many matches.”

With her win, Williams becomes the first woman ever to win a Grand Slam title in three different decades. “That’s kinda cool” she responded, when asked about the accomplishment. Serena praised the play of her opponent. “You can tell by the score line that she really worked hard and she pushed me.”

Azarenka also had positive things to say about Williams. “She never gives up…she’s definitely the toughest player mentally there is. She continued, with an upbeat attitude. “I have to be positive, you know, because I feel like these kind of matches, every time I play Serena, it really pushes (me) to be better, to improve, to move forward. I have to be thankful to her for that.”

There were numerous entertainers in the star-studded crowd of 23,771, including tennis legends Billie Jean King and Boris Becker, New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Mets pitcher RA Dickey, actors Will Ferrell, Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Judd Hirsch, and James Caviezel, actresses Jennifer Connelly, Minka Kelly,and Vivica Fox, musicians Redfoo of LMFAO and Mandy Moore, supermodel Tyra Banks, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

Sam Stosur Presented Sportmanship Award

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., September 4, 2012 — The USTA today announced that Samantha Stosur has received the first-ever “US Open Sportsmanship Award” presented to one male and one female professional tennis player who best demonstrate excellence in sportsmanship throughout the Emirates Airline US Open Series and the US Open. The award was presented to Stosur today at the US Open by USTA Chairman of the Board and President Jon Vegosen and Sportsmanship Selection Committee Chairman Todd Martin.

“Great sports make a sport great and Samantha Stosur is a perfect choice for the US Open Sportsmanship Award,” said Vegosen. “Samantha is a phenomenal player and also exhibits the type of quality and tradition in our sport that we want to showcase. When someone like Samantha has accomplished as much as she has and is still a class act, it shows that character is really important in the game and in life.”

“I feel extremely honored to accept the Sportsmanship Award,” said Stosur. “I always try to compete hard and growing up watching my idols, I admired the players who were graceful in victory or defeat. It was a surprise to receive the award and nice to take home the beautiful trophy, although not quite the big one I was after.”

Stosur won the 2011 US Open, defeating Serena Williams in the final. She reached the round of 16 at the US Open this year, losing to world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in an epic three-set match. Stosur also reached the quarterfinals of the Emirates Airline US Open Series event in Cincinnati and the round of 16 in Montreal. She is ranked No. 7 in the world.

Under Vegosen’s leadership, the USTA started a Sportsmanship Committee in 2011. Its charge is to “educate and inspire youngsters and their parents to develop and exhibit a high degree of sportsmanship and an attitude of fair play and mutual respect on and off the tennis court. Underlying the charge is the ethical imperative that fairness is more important than winning.”

Eligibility requirements for winners include participating in at least two Series tournaments, as well as the 2012 US Open. In addition to a handsome trophy, each US Open Sportsmanship Award winner receives a $5,000 donation to the charity of his or her choice.

Sloane and Serena Become Friends

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Serena Williams, one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, who is 30-years old, and Sloane Stephens, a 19-year old emerging star who has been compared to Serena on the court, have forged a friendship recently that is somewhat of a mentor/mentee relationship.

But you would be surprised at who plays what role. “I think she’s more my mentor than anything,” Williams said in an interview after her win over Coco Vandeweghe in the first round of the 2012 US Open. Serena had some more compliments of Stephens on and off the court. “I think she’s an amazing player. She’s playing so smooth. She looks like she gives no effort when she plays.”

Serena continued to talk about Sloane’s on-court performance, adding “I hope I can teach her some things, and hopefully she’s able to do it. I think that we can kind of feed off each other. She can teach me some things, maybe how to be calm on the court.”

Off the court, Serena had even more praise. “I think she’s a great person. She’s always encouraging me not to be single,” Serena said with a smile. Williams was later asked if she thinks Sloane has the potential to be the next superstar on and off the tennis court. “I think she has a great smile, a beautiful face. I think she has such a wonderful personality and attitude. So yeah, I think it’s totally possible.”

Earlier in the day, after her upset win over Francesca Schiavone, Stephens was asked some questions about Serena as well. “We’re really good friends. We just have a really good relationship. I felt like I knew her in a past life or something, I don’t know. It’s so strange” Sloane said.

One thing that makes Serena Williams so great is her confidence. When asked if she believes in her heart if she is the best player in the game, she responded “Of course I believe that. I think there are a number of players on this tour, a few players who believe that. I don’t think we would be playing if we didn’t believe that.”

Perhaps some of Serena’s confidence has rubbed off on Sloane. When asked if Sloane Stephens will be to be the next superstar in tennis, she simply, and confidently, replied “She is.” With a winning smile, a great personality and confidence to match, many are hoping that Sloane Stephens is the next superstar in the tennis world, and with a mentor like Serena Williams, she is well on her way.

Billie Jean King is Newest Inductee Into Tennis Industry Hall of Fame

NEW YORK, NY (Sept. 10, 2010) — Few players, male or female, have had the large-scale impact on or off the tennis court as Billie Jean King—in fact, last year King was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her impact and influence on the sport and industry of tennis are so significant that she is the newest member inducted into the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame.

“It’s an honor to be a part of the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame, and to follow in the footsteps of Dennis Van der Meer, Howard Head and Alan Schwartz,” said King in a ceremony at the Tennis Industry Association’s Tennis Forum in New York City, during the 2010 US Open tennis tournament. Van der Meer and Head were inducted in 2008, the inaugural year for the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame. Schwartz was inducted last year.

Jeff Williams, publisher of Tennis Magazine and chairman of the TIA’s Hall of Fame Committee, introduced King at the Tennis Forum. “We are honoring you because you were the spark,” Williams told the crowd, “the spark that caused a boom. A boom that gave rise to the tennis industry as we know it today. We are all part of an industry that is bigger, an industry that is better, and an industry that is stronger because of you.”

King started playing tennis only because a childhood friend in fifth grade asked her to play. “If she hadn’t asked me, I wouldn’t have started playing,” says King, who likens her experience in tennis to life itself. “Tennis teaches you to keep playing, keep going and maintain optimism in life.”

King began playing Grand Slam tournaments as a teenager in the 1960s. She won her first doubles title at Wimbledon at age 17, and went on to rack up 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed-doubles titles, including a record 20 titles at Wimbledon (six singles, 14 doubles and mixed doubles).

It wasn’t enough just to play the game, though; King made it better. She campaigned for equal prize money for men and women; her efforts helped make that goal a reality at the US Open in 1973, and eventually at all four major tournaments. She led efforts among players to support the first women’s professional tour.

A defining moment for King, for tennis, and for women in sports came in 1973, when she beat Bobby Riggs in the nationally televised Battle of the Sexes match. Her 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win was a pivotal point for tennis, and it cemented her status as an icon in both the sports world and in pop culture in general.

She founded the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973, the Women’s Sports Foundation and Women’s Sports Magazine in 1974, and also in 1974, co-founded World TeamTennis, the groundbreaking co-ed professional tennis league. She also founded the WTT Recreational League, one of the most popular recreational tennis formats in the U.S. Her involvement with the sport continues today; she is a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition and remains involved with the U.S. Tennis Association.

King continues to push barriers, both inside and outside of tennis. In 2007, she co-founded GreenSlam, an environmental initiative for the sports industry. She was named Global Mentor for Gender Equality by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2008. She continues to be a leader in the fight for equality and recognition in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.

In 2009, at the White House, President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, making her the first female athlete to be so honored. “We honor what she did to broaden the reach of the game, to change how women athletes and women everywhere view themselves, and to give everyone—including my two daughters—a chance to compete both on the court and in life,” the President said in presenting the honor.

King’s significant contributions on the court, to the sport itself, and to society were noted when in 2006, the National Tennis Center was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The court on which generations of players will set their own milestones and break their own barriers now carries the name of one of the first players to do that.

About the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame
Created in 2008, the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame recognizes those individuals who have made a significant impact on tennis, from the 1960s to the present. Nominations can be made in four categories—inventors, founders, innovators and contributors. The first two inductees were Dennis Van der Meer and the late Howard Head. Last year, Alan Schwartz was the sole inductee. Plaques for all Tennis Industry Hall of Fame inductees are on permanent display at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. For more information, visit TennisIndustry.org/HOF.

Wozniacki Shows A Lions Heart Against Cibulkova

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – In the squared circle, boxers knew Mike Tyson was mean and Mohammed Ali would talk their ears off, right before making them into cauliflower.

Yet, it’s tough to see Caroline Wozniacki in that position. She looks so nice on the outside that it’s hard to see the tiger raging within.

Actually, though, look closely on the court and there’s a bit of Ali’s technician and Tyson’s fire in that’s beautiful blonde body. And maybe that’s why she feels as comfortable in the boxing ring, as she does on the tennis court.

“Boxing, it’s just a different way for me to work out,” Wozniacki said. “It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s great because I have this great coach who knows how to get me in good shape and what I need for my tennis, as well.

“Yeah, I wanted to try something different, something that was not the usual things.  I just love the training.  It’s great.  It’s really hard not only physically, but also the conditioning.”

Dominika Cibulkova learned that the hard way today as she was swept out of the Open by Wozniacki, 6-2 7-5. It was the No. 1 seeds 20th win since Wimbledon as she improved her record to 20-1.

Although this may have been her toughest match to date in Flushing Meadows, the 20 year-old still seemed to have a pretty easy time. That is of course with the exception of this year’s Open nemesis, the heavy swirling winds of Arthur Ashe.

“It was really difficult to play today,” she said. “It was very windy, and from one side you barely hit it and the ball was flying, and from the other side you had to really hit through because the ball didn’t go anywhere. “So it was tough, but it was the same for both of us.”

Much like every good fighter, Wozniacki endured and even fought for the tough points. In fact, the chair umpire saw some of the toughness come out as the tournament’s top player gave her an earful on a replayed point.

“I’m really competitive,” she said.  “I really don’t like losing, and, you know, when I’m on court I’m just thinking about the next point and the match that I want to win.  I’m focused on that.”

So now Wozniacki will move onto the Semifinals against Vera Zvonareva, someone the rising star knows very well and calls it “definitely a tough match. I mean, she’s a really good ‑‑ she’s playing really well at the moment.  She’s playing aggressively, hitting through the ball.”

That will be on Friday. So maybe with tomorrow off, Wozniacki will go back into the squared and score a boxing knockout.

Or maybe not.

“I’m a good girl,” she said. “I don’t do those things.”

No, only on the court. Look out Vera.

An Excerpt from “The Education of a Tennis Player”

The court was greasy, but somehow slow, which favored me because Tony’s slice didn’t take. Movement was tough, and this was a break for me because Tony decided not to put on spikes. He figured his strained thigh muscles would be jarred by the quick stops you make in spikes, possibly bringing on a cramp.

That first set was one of the strangest I’ve ever played. I should have won it and deserved to lose it. I got what I deserved and Tony took it 9-7, just took it right away from me after I’d been serving for the set at 5-3. He did it with beautiful backhands. I was sloshing and slipping around, and a couple of times I had asked referee Mike Gibson for permission to put on my spiked shoes. I’d wanted to begin the match in them, but he’d refused. After that game, Mike said all right. It meant all the difference to me.

Tony immediately won his serve in four points, but I felt surer on my feet and I knew I’d get going. Especially when I stopped him two points short of the set to keep even at 6-6. But I wasn’t so sure when I lost that first set anyway. I’d had a lot of luck during the year, and I wondered if it had run out at last. Although I’d worn spikes here and there throughout my career, the occasions were so rare during my professional days that they took some getting used to. You consciously changed your movements at first. Picked up your feet. No sliding. It was a new sensation until you were re-accustomed to them.

The slight uncertainty of moving in spikes was gone for good in the first game of the second set when I came through with a big serve at the crucial point of the match. With the first set his, and the pressure on me, Tony got me down 30-40 on my serve. One more point and he’d be up a set and a break, a pretty good edge in that mush.

We both knew this was a huge point. He took his time getting ready to return, and I did the same lining up—not overly so, maybe not even noticeable to the crowd, but we had to be right for this one. I was righter. I threw myself into the serve, and sliced it wide to his forehand. It didn’t come back. He barely touched it, and I could tell it pained him to miss the opportunity. You don’t get too many break-point chances on grass—and he didn’t have another.

It wouldn’t be apparent for a while, but the match turned upside down right there. I won the game and began hitting harder and harder as I got surer of my footing. Then I won the next and the next—five straight. From that break-point chance in the first game, Tony managed to win only five of the last 23 games. He came all apart as I wrapped him up, 7-9, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Not even a rain delay of a half-hour at the beginning of the third set could rust my concentration or help him pull his together.

Unlike 1962, I had control of myself all through the final match of the Grand Slam. I was never dazed as I had been against Emmo seven years before during a brief case of nerves down the stretch.

Serving match game, I opened with an ace. I knew what I was about, and wasn’t going to let Tony breathe. It was 40-0 when I did try to end with a grand-slamming flourish on a forehand volley. I blew it. A minor disappointment not to be able to score with a put-away as I had on the championship point at Wimbledon.

It fell to Tony to lose it with a forehand that he hit long. Both of us were glad it was over. Afraid to use spikes, he’d been victimized in sneakers, unable to counteract my better shots, including a number of very good lobs. It was one of my best days with the lob, always a useful shot, but even more damaging that day when running was tough.

Not enough ordinary players realize the value of the lob, and I guess I didn’t until I became a seasoned pro. It’s much more than a desperation measure. As an amateur, even if the odds were against my making a shot, I’d usually let fly anyway. When I became a pro, I couldn’t risk throwing away points like that because the opposition was equal or better.

This meant I had to be realistic. If my chances of making a shot from a difficult position were doubtful, I found you seldom get hurt with a lob.

But there were no more lobs to be hit. Not one more stroke on a chase that began God knows how many strokes ago in Brisbane when I hit the first serve to a fellow I wouldn’t know if he walked into the room, Massimo di Domenico. The others I knew pretty well . . . Andres . . . Arthur . . Emmo . . . Tony . . . Newc . . . Dennis . . . Kenny . . . Okker . . . Smith.

There were 1,005 games in 26 Grand Slam matches, and now it was all over.

Laver captured 11 major singles titles during his career, including Wimbledon in 1961, 1962, 1968 and 1969. After joining Don Budge as the only man to win a Grand Slam by sweeping all four majors in 1962, Laver turned professional where he, along with fellow pros Hoad, Rosewall and Gonzalez, were banned from playing the “amateur-only” major tournaments. When the “Open Era” of tennis began in 1968, Laver netted another five major singles titles, including his Grand Slam sweep of all four in 1969. Laver won nearly 200 singles titles during his career and was inducted into the International Tennis of Fame in 1981.

I am delighted that THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is back in circulation and available for a new generation of tennis fans,” said Laver. “Winning the Grand Slam for a second time in 1969 seems just like yesterday and this book brings back a lot of memories of the great matches and exciting times. I hope people enjoy reading my story.

Collins, himself a 1994 inductee in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, first met Laver in 1956 at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston during the U.S. National Doubles Championships. Thirteen years later, the two collaborated on the book that was only to be published if Laver won the Grand Slam. Collins is best known for his colorful television commentary – and his colorful wardrobe – as well as his columns in the Boston Globe. Collins currently works as a commentator with ESPN2 and Tennis Channel.

Rod Laver is one of the greatest treasures we have in tennis and THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is one of our sports most important literary works,” said Collins. “Rod was always so humble and gracious, but he could play tennis like a hurricane. He was as a great a champion as we have ever had in tennis and one of the all-time nicest guys.

New Chapter Press is also the publisher of THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS by Bud Collins, THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION by Rene Stauffer and BOYCOTT: STOLEN DREAMS OF THE 1980 MOSCOW OLYMPIC GAMES by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli among others. More information on New Chapter Press can be found at www.NewChapterMedia.com.

Honored Agassi Gives Back

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Above all things, Andre Agassi is a class act. A fan favorite for the 21 years he participated in the US Open, yet tonight he returned, not as a player, but to be honored, as someone who gives back.

Through his foundation, the retired 39 year-old star has started a school for underprivileged kids in Las Vegas. His plan is to improve education in the state of Nevada through his his education system.

“My hope,” Agassi said, “is in a state that’s 50th in the United States, kids we put into college, that somehow as a motto as my school [improve that number].”

Agassi has testified in front of the Nevada Senate on how to improve that number. Because the state is last in the country, he feels “a little help can go a long ways.” It is that reason why he started his charter school through the Agassi Foundation. Whereas tennis was his life, he is now an educator and a pretty good one.

Maybe it’s because he wasn’t a good student as a youth. A rebel, who found solace on the hard courts, Agassi is now looking to use his fame and fortune to improve the under privileged. So instead of sending his children to his school, the affable star is using all the spots “to those who need it.”

“When I say a 20/20 piece where they were showing Michael Feinberg, who is with the Kipp Program, I was really taken by charter schools. I thought the model itself made more sense,” Agassi said. “We can hold students accountable, teachers accountable, parents accountable. We can have longer school days, longer school years, time on  tests, and no shortcuts.

“It all sort of connected with everything I’ve learned on the tennis court. Then I set out about trying to figure out how to do it, and made a lot of mistakes and continued to learn from it. But we are getting better at the money we need to fund. In other words, we are starting to get a reasonable level of funding that’s scalable. We’re starting to get results that every parent would want for their child and things are happening.”

Agassi graduated his first class this year and now the K-12 school is considered the model for a tuition free charter school. Tuition is free and is based solely on the foundation’s efforts.

This is the former star’s way of giving back. He is looking to continue the school’s growth and eventually use its success to make a change in the education system in the country. Yet, right now, he knows the tough task he has in front of him.

“There’s a number of ways to scale this,” he said. “I think the ultimately what we are going to find is legislative change that can trickle and affect a lot of children across America. Our standards are pretty low right now. Even in the good schools we’re not even thinking globally as how we compare to the rest of the world.”

Much like his career, Agassi is a surprise and this new endeavor just is a continuation of his success. For 21 years he was a champion of the people at the US Open, now he’s a champion for the few under privileged children in Las Vegas.