The Class of 2014 was sterling. The headliner, of course, was the estimable American Lindsay Davenport, a dignified woman who won three Grand Slam singles championships and three more in doubles, capturing 55 singles events altogether, handling herself admirably in every setting. Wheelchair Tennis standout Chantal Vandierendonck was another worthy honoree. These two extraordinary players were joined by three prodigious contributors who all indisputably earned this singularly high honor: Jane Brown Grimes, Nick Bollettieri, and John Barrett. Brown Grimes held three critical leadership posts in women’s tennis that set her apart as an outstanding individual in her field. She was Executive Director and then president and CEO at the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, Managing Director of the Women’s Professional Tennis Council, and a creative President of the USTA in 2007-2008.
Bollettieri hardly needs an introduction. He reshaped tennis with his philosophy on teaching the game, creating the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in 1978, coaching ten players who held the No. 1 world ranking including Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Jim Courier. Moreover, Bollettieri has been one of the game’s most enduring figures, moving through his eighties now as if he were a 47-year-old. Last, but not least, Barrett has been one of the premier writers and broadcasters of all time, working most prominently on the BBC from 1971 until 2006, covering the sport for the Financial Times in London for more than three decades, producing and editing the prestigious World of Tennis annual yearbook from the late sixties until 2001, writing many prestigious books, and influencing generations of tennis fans worldwide with the depth of his insights and the power and clarity of his agile mind.
I was asked by Barrett to present him to the fans in Newport, and I readily accepted his flattering invitation. We have known each other since 1968. I had the honor of contributing to World of Tennis for nearly thirty years, and I believe I am one of the few people in today’s tennis world who fully appreciates the breadth and scope of his accomplishments, and the way he went about his business. John Barrett is an exceedingly modest man who worked inordinately hard and treated every professional commitment with deep respect, and yet he never took himself too seriously. That is rare in this business.
In any case, the ceremonies commenced as stylishly as possible. Brown Grimes was presented by none other than Chrissie Evert, who was the ideal woman to take on such a task. Evert was in the forefront of the game as one of the greatest of all female players while Brown Grimes was in charge at the Hall of Fame and the Women’s Pro Council. She closely followed her friends progress when Jane was USTA President for two significant years. Evert always respected Brown Grimes as a leader in the sport’s intricate political world. Her speech enabled listeners to know unequivocally why Brown Grimes belongs at the shrine of tennis, and how she got there.
Evert cited the various leadership roles of Brown Grimes, and then said, ‘No other person has ever run three major organizations in tennis, so I congratulate you on that. Whats more, Jane earned and held these three positions in an industry whose leaders were predominantly men. At the WTA, I can speak firsthand that Jane’s skilled diplomacy was crucial to the survival of the tour as she was able to navigate the tricky waters of attracting and keeping desirable sponsorships while distancing our association with past relationships with controversial brands. It was a pivotal time for women’s tennis and it put us on a secure course for the future. It made us into what is women’s tennis today.”
Evert paused, and then lauded Brown Grimes by saying, ”While leading the USTA, Jane was a vital force in launching the 10-and-under tennis initiative that resulted in a surge of interest from children in the sport. Of course, all around us you can see Jane. You can see her influence. She was responsible for so much of the growth here at the Hall of Fame, helping it evolve into the unique attraction it is today. Over the past few decades, I have watched her work her magic with intelligence, savvy and integrity. She broke down barriers that women faced in the workplace and pushed past gender roles, and she did it with grace.”
Brown Grimes then addressed the crowd thoughtfully and unselfishly, devoting her talk largely to the strides tennis has made since she started working in it four decades ago. She recollected the impaired state of the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum facility when she first worked there in 1977. As she said, “I was the newest staff member on a staff of fewer than five people. There was no money. But then as now, there was a deep conviction of how magnificent this place could be. A team of visionary men and women began to raise money and fix up the place. I was very happy and lucky to be a part of that team. As the Hall of Fame grew, so did the sport itself.”
Brown Grimes turned her attention to the reach and impact of the sport on the lives of people around the world. She spoke poignantly of how political barriers are broken down when a team like Peng Shuai of china and Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan win a French Open doubles title, as they did this year. She recollected Arthur Ashe finally getting a visa to South Africa in 1973 and speaking to hundreds of African children. She recalled Martina Navratilova returning to Czechoslovakia in 1986 to represent the Americans in Fed Cup, eleven years after Martina defected to the U.S.
It was a superb speech because Jane Brown Grimes was focusing on the large picture while saying very little about herself. Evert had already done a terrific job of defining who Brown Grimes is and what she stands for. Concluding her remarks with optimism, Brown Grimes said, “Tennis has grown bigger and stronger and richer, but it has also done what Dwight Davis set out as a goal when he founded the Davis Cup in 1900, to promote goodwill internationally. I feel so very lucky to have played a very small role in this amazing story, and to be recognized in this way today on this court in front of so many friends and family and tennis fans is more than I could ever have imagined.”
Next, it was my turn to introduce John Barrett. As I sat there alongside the other presenters and inductees, I felt apprehensive. I had a major responsibility to describe Barrett accurately for those who did not know much about how much he did to enlarge tennis in the public eye. I imagined that the tension I was experiencing–not negativity but a healthy desire to present John in the best possible light–was similar in some ways to a player walking on court for a critical match. I was anxious to get started, to make the American crowd comprehend the magnitude of this Englishman’s vast body of work, to inform the audience about how Barrett made tennis more popular through his singular capacity to speak about the sport eloquently, lucidly and lyrically.
Near the beginning of my speech, I said, ”The word greatness is used far too frequently to describe towering achievers in different endeavors, on and off the field of athletics, everywhere in life. But John Barrett surely meets that lofty standard, and I will tell you why.”
I mentioned Barrett’s distinguished record as one of the best British players of his generation, clarifying that he was a strategically sound left-hander who competed at Wimbledon no fewer than 19 years between 1950 and 1970. He made it to the quarterfinals of the mens doubles and once took a set in singles off the esteemed Ken Rosewall. John represented Great Britain in Davis Cup play across the fifties and then was captain of the English squads from 1959 to 1962. In the mid-sixties he took over at the helm of the LTA training squad, which fittingly became known as the Barrett Boys.
But his most crucial work was done off the court. As I said, “John moved seamlessly into the world of print and broadcast journalism, and with his supreme dedication to that craft, he reshaped the way many people thought and felt about the game.”
I spoke of Barrett’s superlative work from 1968 to 2001 in producing World of Tennis, and as a prolific author of many books. Then I saluted his shining legacy as a broadcaster for the BBC from 1971 to 2006. I said, “Across the decades, over a span of 36 years, with wit, wisdom and acute intelligence, Barrett became the man most synonymous with the game’s preeminent event. He was a voice of reason and an authority who never hit you over the head with the wealth of his knowledge.”
Near the closing stages of my remarks, I said that “John Barrett was the Walter Cronkite of tennis broadcast journalism because both men were thoroughly credible to their audiences. I concluded by asserting, ”We all owe John a debt of gratitude for raising the profile of the game, for representing himself and tennis so honorably, and pursuing all of his endeavors with unwavering professionalism and enduring kindness. In the final analysis, John found greatness by becoming even more than the sum of his substantial achievements.”
I sat down after that introduction feeling relieved, hoping I had portrayed John Barrett clearly and precisely, with the utmost of respect. Now it was his turn to step forward and accept the highest honor there is in the game of tennis. He proceeded to display his usual grace, reverence for the sport, and sophistication. After thanking me for my introduction, he said, ”I would also like to congratulate all of the other inductees. This is probably for them, as for me, the most important moment of their professional lives.”
Barrett covered a remarkable amount of ground in his stirring speech, recollecting meeting Hall of Fame founder Jimmy Van Alen on his first trip to Newport in 1952. He would say, “As we all know, Jimmy was a very inventive man. The scoring system with the sudden death climax at four points all was adapted to become what we now know as the tie-break. And, of course, the magnificent Hall of Fame Museum which we enjoy today [must be mentioned]. Little did I imagine back in 1952 that all these years later I’d be standing here about to become an exhibit! To think that my mother had always told me not to make an exhibition of myself! Goodness knows what she would have said.”
He recollected watching his lovely wife, Angela Mortimer Barrett, at her Hall of Fame induction in 1993, sitting with his son and daughter during that ceremony, celebrating Angela’s first rate career which featured singles victories in three of the four majors, including Wimbledon in 1961. At this point, said Barrett, “I want to declare my inferiority. Promising as I may have been as a young tennis player, my achievements fell far short of hers. I respectfully bow to her.”
The crowd appreciated that gesture. Barrett then lauded his wife for the large contribution she has made to his many triumphs. As he put it, “Without her wisdom and common sense, which have saved me from disaster on more than one occasion, the modest success that I have enjoyed in several fields in the sport that we both love could never have been achieved.”
Later, Barrett thanked many who have helped advance his career over the years, and then he said, “It is very humbling to realize that today I shall be joining in the Hall of Fame some of the media colleagues who contributed articles for me during those 34 World of Tennis years. Among them, those legendary writers Allison Danzig, David Gray, Lance Tingay, Gianni Clerici, Gene Scott and writer/broadcaster Bud Collins.”
Barrett read a beautifully produced poem he had created about Jimmy Van Alen and the Hall of Fame, and then said eloquently, “If I have learned anything after a lifetime involved in so many aspects of tennis, it is that the game itself is the thing that captures the imagination. Anyone who has ever competed at any level, however humble, will recognize the burst of adrenaline that sets the pulse racing at match point.”
He finished by reading an inspired verse from Sir Henry Newbolt, and Barrett then wrapped up his soaring address with these words: ”Long live the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Thank you.”
John Barrett had stepped up to the occasion, giving the fans and viewers on Tennis Channel a clear sense of his stature and stability. He was a very tough act to follow, but Brad Parks did not shy away from the challenge. Parks was the first Wheelchair Tennis player to be inducted at the Hall of Fame, and he was there to introduce Vandierendonck, one of the most accomplished of all female wheelchair players.
Parks recalled meeting Vandierendonck in 1985 while he was doing some clinics in the Netherlands, where Vandierendonck lived. She had been injured in a car accident the previous year. He informed the audience that Vandierendonck took her first major wheelchair tennis title at the 1985 U.S Open. ” We had so many, many good American women players at the time and we were all just shocked that Chantel won her first U.S. Open against more experienced players.”
Parks marveled at the fact that Vandierendonck won the U.S. Open seven times, lauded her for becoming the first ITF world champion in 1991, and for attaining that same distinction in 1996 and 1997. He fondly recollected playing in the U.S. Open Mixed Doubles Championships with Chantel.
”She was not only an amazing tennis player,” said Parks,” but her shot-making ability and mental toughness made her the best player in the world for years. But what makes Chantel’s success even more impressive is she has a higher level of disability than most elite wheelchair tennis players, making the sport more difficult to play. However, she made up for it with her on-court flawless skills, strategy and determination. No player of her disability level, male or female, has been able to come close to Chantel’s record.”
Vandierendonck spoke passionately about the role tennis has played in fulfilling her life.” I thank tennis,” she said, “for everything it gave me and brought to me. It added so much meaning to my life.”
She explained the process of how she went from the game of tennis to wheelchair tennis after her car accident. “I became paraplegic. When the doctor told me I would never walk again, my life seemed to be torn apart. I would have to continue my life without tennis. But then one day my uncle from Belgium visited me at the hospital. He told me he had seen wheelchair tennis on the French television, and I could play tennis now in a wheelchair.”
The rest, of course, was history. Vandierendonck established herself as a luminary figure in wheelchair tennis, a top of the line competitor, and a gifted striker of the ball. ”Wheelchair tennis brought so much to my life. I’ve learned so much from all the other players and Im grateful for that. I hope that with all that I have learned I can inspire other people.”
Vandierendonck clearly inspired the fans in Newport. Now it was time for Mary Carillo to approach the microphone and talk about the one and only Nick Bollettieri, a man she respects immensely. Bollettieri’s successes have been so well documented and his fame has been so far reaching that in some ways he did not need an introduction. But Carillo was nothing short of stupendous. In the space of just a couple of minutes, she put Bollettieri’s life and his impact on the sport totally into perspective. She was witty, urbane, amusing and moving. She was Mary Carillo.
“’I’ve been told I have two minutes to introduce Nick Bollettieri,” she said. “How do I do that? It’s taken Nick a lifetime to get here and I’ve spent the better part of my life watching him get here. I’ve watched him teach, absorb, dispel, defy, embrace, create, laugh, holler, get serious, get wisdom. He is not afraid of love or loss. I’ve seen him marry and divorce, marry and divorce, try again and again because that’s who he is.”
Later, Carillo said, ”I’ve seen him weep but never sleep. His energy defies belief. He believes in his vision, in his gut, in his students, in this sport.”
Her ending was exquisitely delivered. Said Carillo,” Now I’ve got no time left, except to say we thank you Nick, we welcome you as a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Its time, Nick. Its about time.”
Bollettieri stepped up to the podium, and said, “Wow! Now I know exactly how it feels for those who reached the top of Mount Everest. May I say the view from up here is amazing.”
He drew much laughter a few moments later; Bollettieri had twice been on the ballot before this year, only to be inexplicably rejected, failing to receive the required number of votes. So he said, “I’d also like to take the time to thank all of you who voted for me. For a while I thought I was going to be the Susan Lucci of the tennis world. So your vote means the world to me, it really does.”
He continued, “I may not have been too good of a student, but I’ve always been pretty good with numbers. Theres ten No. 1s, nine lives, eight wives, seven amazing children, having a sixth sense, 5 A.M. the time for my first lesson, four beautiful grandchildren, three years of service to our country, two great parents, one passion, and zero–the number of books I’ve read in my lifetime.”
As Bollettieri approached the end of his entertaining speech, he said of his rise to the summit, “It sure would have been a whole lot easier and faster if we had taken the well-worn path up the mountain. But you were brave enough to follow me when I forged my own path which others found to be unorthodox and downright crazy. Yes, I am crazy. But it takes crazy people to do things that other people say cannot be done. But we made it. We sure had a lot of fun getting there.”
Bollettieri said philosophically at the end of his address, ”What I hope I will be remembered for is daring to follow my passion and hopefully igniting that spark of passion in others. That’s what its all about.”
It was left to the dynamic Justin Gimelstob to introduce Lindsay Davenport, the last inductee. Gimelstob, of course, had a distinguished tennis career as a player. He reached a career high of No. 63 in the world, won two mixed doubles majors with Venus Williams, and always competed with extraordinary flair, diving for volleys, connecting with the fans, establishing himself as a distinctive personality. In his salute to Davenport, Gimelstob remained understated and dignified, understanding the occasion, realizing that he needed to show some restraint.
He said of Davenport, “Our final inductee is someone I care very deeply about and respect very much. She personifies everything the International Tennis Hall of Fame is all about: excellence, class, professionalism, authentic performance and a deep respect for the game.”
Gimelstob did a remarkable job of describing Davenport, saying, “Lindsay’s most endearing and revered characteristics are her humility and character. In a sport that celebrates the individual, she never reveled in or craved significant attention. She went about her career the same way she goes about her life, more concerned with the achievement than the notoriety.”
Gimelstob focused on Davenports extraordinary record of 55 career singles titles and 38 doubles crowns, but then emphasized what impressed him the most: finishing four years at No. 1 in the world. ”Only three other women have ever accomplished that feat: Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chrissie Evert. Theyre all tennis royalty and rightfully Lindsay is one of them.”
In his parting comments, Gimelstob spoke completely from the heart. He said,” Most of all, besides all these accomplishments, everything she’s done on the tennis court, Lindsay is just a really special person. She’s generous. She’s loyal, supportive, caring. She conducts herself with grace on the court. She’s continued to show the same class regardless of the scenario or situation off the court. To be Lindsay’s friend is an honor. I’ll never take it for granted and always cherish it. In many ways she’s the sister I never had, and I love her deeply.”
Up came Davenport to close out the ceremonies, and her speech was impeccably organized, released freely and naturally. She did not have any notes in front of her. And yet, she never seemed to lose her stream of thought. For a woman who seems shy at times and often reserved, this was a shining moment. She was relaxed and confident, comfortable talking about her career, plainly enjoying the moment.
Her passion for the game was strikingly apparent. As Davenport said, “I was five years old when I first hit a tennis ball and a racquet was put in my hand. It was the third sport that my parents tried with me to get me out of the house clearly at a young age after school. I never wanted to learn another sport and I still don’t. I immediately had a love for hitting the ball, doing anything I could to play more at the club.”
She spoke of her parents role in developing her values, as a person and a player. As Davenport said, ”I always had my parents support. They did everything they could to just help me achieve my dreams. There was never any pushing me, never ever getting mad at me or threats, but just going out of their way to help me achieve what I wanted. I want to thank them. They’re both here today.”
Davenport went out of her way to heap praise upon Robert Lansdorp for the crucial role he played as one of her coaches. At the age of eight she played a match against his daughter Stephanie. Robert Lansdorp’s wife, Susie, convinced Lindsay’s mother that she should go to Robert’s academy. Davenport spent six or seven years training with Lansdorp. “He definitely set me on my way,” she reflected.
The tall Californian acknowledged other coaches and captains who boosted her morale and her game, including Lynn Rolley, Billie Jean King and Robert van’t Hof. Of the latter, she said, “I was 16 years old, won the junior U.S. Open, didn’t know what I was going to do. I always thought I would go to college. He had just retired from the mens tour. Together we learned about womens professional tennis. He taught me strategy. He taught me how to use my game to break down an opponents game. Most importantly, he taught me topspin. The biggest thing thats been a life lesson to me is to believe in myself, something I had struggled to do throughout my career until that moment. I’ll always be grateful to him. I had a wonderful agent in Tony Godsick who looked after my business affairs but most importantly looked out for what was best for me, which was always extremely helpful.”
This was one of those days when a former champion was having a terrific time in front of a microphone, speaking expansively, expressing herself with candor and clarity, looking entirely comfortable. She would talk next about her husband Jon Leach. ”He spent the last eight years of my professional career supporting me. He’s given me the greatest joys in my life, my four children. They are forever my loves and joys. I can never imagine what my life would be like without them.”
Down the stretch of her speech, Davenport was effusive about her work as a commentator for Tennis Channel. She has been encouraged by her bosses there–including CEO Ken Solomon and Bob Wiley–to make it fun for the viewers, for all those in the audience.
“I love that message, “she said. “It resonates with me.’
Davenport generously praised the likes of Ted Robinson, Ian Eagle, Carillo, Brett Haber, Jim Courier, Martina Navratilova, her idol growing up Tracy Austin, and Gimelstob. But then she added, “I loved playing this game. I never thought any of this would be possible. It always felt a little bit like an accident. I became better than I thought I could be. I didn’t know how to handle that at times. But I do hope that I handled it as well as I could and with some class. This is an incredible honor for me, an amazing achievement. I will be forever humbled by this.”
Thus the ceremonies ended on a high note, with Davenport leaving the stage cheerfully, with the fans delighted about what they heard from the inductees, and a festive feeling lingering in the warm Newport air. Through it all, Master of Ceremonies Christopher Clouser—Chairman of the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum—was admirable. The following morning, I drove home with my wife, Frances, knowing it was one of the best induction days I had ever experienced, realizing that I had been very lucky to speak for John Barrett. He helped me more than he ever knew when I was trying to establish myself as a tennis reporter over forty years ago. He has been an enduringly significant tennis communicator, both in print and across the airwaves. He is indeed a great man. I owed him my best effort, and hope that I did him justice.
<Steve Flink has been reporting on tennis since 1974. He has been a columnist for tennischannel.com since 2007. You can purchase Steve’s latest book “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” here.
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