Posts Tagged International Tennis Hall of Fame

Unexpected Chit Chat With Champion John Isner

Chris (holding Champion's trophy), Ira and John chit chat at Newport—7/15/12

I’m texting in my seat near the end of the singles finals being televised live at Newport, RI last Sunday, when a distinguished man in a blue blazer taps me on the shoulder and asks me if I’d like to go on the center court with him as soon as the match is over and meet the players, John Isner and Leighton Hewitt. John is ranked number 11 in the world and defeated Djokovic and Federer this year. He only turned pro in 2007, has one of the fastest consistent serves in the game (130-140 mph) and is 6’9″ tall. Leighton is a former number one making a comeback after major toe surgery just two months ago. Puzzled and surprised, I say “Sure.”

Five minutes later, I am “plucked from anonymity,” (as a friend said), and walking behind shoulder-tapper Chris Clouser, Chairman of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, with a couple of others right onto the grass court in front of 3700 people to watch the awarding of the trophies and super-sized (3 X 5 feet?) prize checks. The view from right next to the umpire’s high chair is definitely more intimate. And I am definitely a bit self-conscious. But however this is happening, I am enjoying it.

Skylar (glasses on head) collects John Isner's autograph—7/15/12

Leighton leaves quickly, but my daughter, Skylar, obtains his signature on a tennis ball, as well as Champion John’s ten minutes later. Chris brings John over to me. As we shake hands, I tell him that at Skylar’s 21st birthday last year at a hotel in New York, she recognized him in the bar. Also that she’d almost caught one of his kick serves that flew over his opponent’s racket, when he won the same tournament in 2011. Small world.

Life is full of surprises, and this was really a good one. Totally upbeat, memorable and captured for posterity.

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Randy Snow And Wheelchair Tennis

I included the videos above to give you an idea of what wheelchair tennis looks like. One big difference is that two bounces are allowed, and the second one does NOT have to be within the lines. The video of Shingo Kunieda (winner of 13 Grand Slams) demonstrates at 1:08 how dexterous and fast a wheelchair tennis champion has to be.

There was a very moving, teary speech at the Hall of Fame 2012 Induction Ceremony by Randy Snow’s father. He described a son who loved athletics, was a state-ranked tennis player, but was paralyzed at 16, when a 1000-pound bale of hay fell on his back and paralyzed Randy from the waist down. At college he formed a wheelchair basketball team, did wheelchair racing, and then became the best wheelchair tennis player in the United States.

Randy won the US Open Men’s Singles wheelchair tennis championships 10 years, he won six US doubles championships, he won gold medals in tennis wheelchair singles and doubles paralympic games in 1992. And he also won basketball and racing awards, all of which you can see here .

In 1980 he connected with Marilyn Hamilton, who was disabled from a hang-gliding crash, and had developed the aluminum frame, modular Quickie wheel chair that Randy adopted for all his sports. After Randy died in 2010, Marilyn wrote, “He was the right man at the right time for wheelchair sports—a tenacious pioneer who opened doors, pushed limits, inspired some of the world’s greatest athletes, and created awareness that positively changed the attitudes of many in the able-bodied world.”

Wheelchair tennis founder Brad Parks, who is also in the Newport Hall of Fame and was at the ceremony last week, said this about Randy in 2010: “Randy was like a sponge—he just wanted to get better at everything he did…He was one of the most influential wheelchair athletes of all time.” Brad is in the video below.

By the 1990s, Randy had firmly established himself as a living legend. At the 1996 Paralympic Games, he took the Paralympic torch from President Clinton at the White House. Later, he took a torch from President George W. Bush to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. He won accolades from four presidents—Ford, Reagan, Bush (Sr.) and Clinton—and earned a master’s degree in psychology.

Randy started his own motivational company in 1999. He called it NOXQS, “no excuses.” He became a Fortune 500 speaker, wrote several books, aspired to be a college professor and challenged listeners with such statements as “Change is inevitable; direction is choice,” and “Life takes a 100-percent, able-bodied mind to succeed.”

You can learn more here about Randy’s Push Forward Foundation and also his motivational videos, one of which is below, so you can enjoy his energy and some ideas for success. I think I saw a quote by him in the Hall of Fame that said, “I did not have a disability, but an opportunity.” or “My disability turned into a great opportunity. Either way, this remarkable man became a great athlete, leader and influence.

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Inductee Stories To Applaud And Cry About At Hall Of Fame Ceremony

Capriati (left) and Seles on the podium

Last year’s group included Andre Agassi. This year (7/14) I’d heard only of Jennifer Capriati. She was introduced by earlier inductee, Monica Seles. Both women were crying like babies…so overcome with emotion and pride and thrilled to be acknowledged by their peers. Two others in the class are Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten and Randy Snow.

Other Hall of Famers on the podium included Vic Seixas (14 Grand Slams), Owen Davidson (12 GS), Rosie Casals (9GS), Stan Smith (7 GS), Gigi Fernandez (17 GS), Butch Buchholz, and Brad Parks who created wheelchair tennis competitions. Many of these wins were in doubles and mixed doubles.

The stories and histories described are powerful and overwhelming.

Monica Seles: In 1990, at the age of 16, Seles became the youngest-ever French Open champion. She went on to win eight Grand Slam singles titles before her 20th birthday and was the year-end world no. 1 in 1991 and 1992. However, in April 1993 she was the victim of an on-court attack, when a man stabbed her in the back with a 9-inch-long knife. Though she enjoyed some success after rejoining the tour in 1995, including a fourth Australian Open success in 1996, she was unable to consistently reproduce her best form.

Guga walking around the court with his certificate of induction

Jennifer Capriati: A former number one, and the winner of three women’s singles Grand Slams. She was the youngest ever player to crack the top 10 at age 14 and reached the semifinals at her first Grand Slam event—the 1990 French Open. She won a Gold Medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, defeating Steffi Graf in the final. Then she burned out in 1993, took a 14-month break from competitive pro tennis and had personal struggles that included arrests for shoplifting and possession of marijuana. She also spent time in drug rehabilitation in 1994. She then made an admirable 6-year comeback, winning her first title in 1999, then two Grand Slams in 2001, and finally becoming world number one…until injuries derailed her career in 2004.

Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten: Another former number one, he won the French Open three times (the first time when he was ranked 66 in the world). He was introduced at the ceremony Saturday by his mother, who was crying with pride, and then Guga gave a 10-minute speech without reading any notes, speaking off the cuff, and crying himself throughout. He said he can barely speak English, so how could he possibly write a speech in English. His mother told how his tennis player/coach father died when Guga was 8 in a country that adored soccer and had minimal interest in tennis. Once his talent became apparent, the family sold their car, their house, and used their savings to promote Guga’s career. It was stopped by injuries and many hip surgeries.

His youngest brother had oxygen deprivation during birth, and as a result suffered from mental retardation and severe physical disability until his death in 2007. Kuerten was deeply affected by his brother’s daily struggles, later donating the entire prize money from one tournament he won every year to a hometown NGO that provides assistance for people with similar disabilities. He gave every trophy he won to his younger brother as a souvenir, including the three miniature replicas of the French Open men’s singles trophy.

I am going to devote a separate post to Randy Snow, who was so amazing and inspirational.

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Andre Agassi Inducted Into The International Tennis Hall Of Fame

Andre Agassi and my daughter Skylar

I just spent four breathtakingly fabulous days watching the Campbell’s ATP Tennis tournament at the International
Hall of Fame facility in Newport, RI. And I also played on the grass courts there myself for seven hours during two of the days. (This included a 2 1/2 hour clinic, where I learned many useful tips I am eager to try out.) Prior to this trip, I had only hit on grass one hour in my life. Quite a thrill.

But even more exciting was attending some events that attracted a number of Hall of Famers, particularly this year’s two inductees, Andre Agassi and Peachy Kelmeyer, who launched the WTA and equal rights and prize money for women. Did you know that tennis is the most popular professional women’s sport in the world?

I was privileged to be able to thank Andre (who was sitting five feet from me) at a luncheon for his inspiration and contributions to the game and the world. I also saw and heard speak his wife, Steffi Graff and other previous inductees, including tennis greats Todd Martin, Vic Seixas, Rosie Casals, Donald Dell, Owen Davidson, Pam Shriver, tennis journalist/broadcast commentator Bud Collins, and famed tennis photographer Mike Adams.

Agassi gave a speech that was so emotional and filled with gratitude that some people—including Andre—were tearing up or crying. He said that he had been on the podium there twice before: once to introduce his wife, when she was inducted into the Fall of Fame in 2004, and secondly in his father’s imagination since the day Andre was born. Andre’s speech in the video starts at 10:30. You may want to listen to the first 30 seconds to hear a bit of what Andre has accomplished. A humble man who has given back so much. His foundation and college preparatory academy in Las Vegas that he hopes to replicate in other cities graduates 2000 inner-city kids a year. He has raised $150 million to help transform kids who might never have had a decent education, any self esteem and a chance for college. Andre himself only attended school up to 8th grade.

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Irreverent Flashing At The Tennis Hall of Fame

Went to Newport, Rhode Island to watch the tennis tournament there for older champions, players who have won some majors and been ranked number one (or in the top 10) in the world in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s all on grass—”the ‘real’ kind that’s very fast, not what they have at Wimbledon now,” according to one of the founders of this Champions Cup contest—and the venue may be the oldest for tennis in America…or anywhere. From 1880, I believe. Very beautiful and very green.

I couldn’t resist an irreverent flash there in spite of hardly working out the last three weeks, gaining weight (almost five pounds), and being told that I had to button up my shirt within seconds after this photo was taken.

irreverent flashing at Tennis Hall of Fame

irreverent flashing at Tennis Hall of Fame

If you look closely, you will notice the people in the background who play tennis dressed in clothes they might have worn 100 years ago. All very quaint and wonderful.

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