No tennis museum anywhere in the world does it better than the International Tennis Hall of Fame situated on Bellevue Avenue in the heart of Newport, Rhode Island. A place that remains as quaint as ever with cute cottages and, at the other extreme, mansions that would have 100 rooms and better referred to as estates. So many can be seen along the Cliff Walk – homes owned by the likes of the Vanderbilts, Hunts, Berwinds and Astors to name a few.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame is beautiful and magnificent and must be seen by all tennis enthusiasts and any sports lover who has an interest in the historical aspect of sports.
The Hall of Fame is at the Newport Casino (from the Italian word La Casina for country or summer house) but don’t expect blackjack tables or rows upon rows of slot machines. In 1880 it was developed as an exclusive meeting place for the rich and elite of society; many being owners of those mansions.
From 1881 till 1914 the United States Tennis Association would hold their National Championships here. Those championships were the forerunner to what is now the US Open. But in the 1950’s the place was struggling financially, and wealthy Newport summer residents Jimmy and Candy Van Alen bought the place with the view that it would be “a shrine to the ideals of the game”. That is exactly what it is. Interestingly, Mr. Van Alen was famous for another milestone in tennis, he developed the tiebreaker.
The place is also a private tennis club with manicured grass courts, hardcourts, a claycourt, indoor courts and real tennis courts, and the dress code is all white. It is almost like going back in time.
Walk into the beautiful century old building and up the Grand Staircase and along the left wall are aged trophies in pristine condition along with a tribute to Major Walter Wingfield, a lawn tennis pioneer. At the top of the stairs is the Enshrinement Gallery where every person (over 260) who has been inducted into the Hall of Fame (the ceremony happens each July) is profiled and in one corner a video is on loop showing speeches from Ivan Lendl, Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, Stefan Edberg, John McEnroe. It is the ultimate honour in tennis.
The displays are stunning and so well captioned. The Hall of Fame has the world’s largest collection of tennis memorabilia. There are wonderful pieces of old art and paintings depicting tennis life from past centuries. The costumes and outfits perfectly preserved, from dresses designed and made by legendary Ted Tinling to Ash Barty’s outfit from the 2019 French Open final to Rene Lacoste’s crocodile blazer.
A display of the late Maureen Connolly and her three Wimbledon trophies can be seen and she can be listened to, or there is the Arthur Ashe Virtual Reality Experience. The Hall of Fame has 25,000 artifacts with just 2% on show but digital exhibits still bring pieces to life. And if you are Roger Federer fan then the hologram is a must and is captivating. The tennis ball can display wall is fun.
Room after room with glorious memorabilia including sections on the team competitions like Davis Cup, Fed Cup (now Billie Jean King Cup), Laver Cup. This weekend in fact the Hall of Fame is hosting only its third ever Davis Cup tie between New Zealand and South Korea. The first one was incredibly a century ago when Japan beat Australasia (Australia and NZ combined) 4-1 and then in 1991 between when the USA beat Spain 4-1.
Tennis history will be forever safe with the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
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