The grand international opening of the tennis court in Chicago was a truly special occasion. For many in the game, it was a once-in-a-lifetime event—so far and hopefully not. The only other opening in the past thirty-two years came at Prince’s Court outside of Washington in October 1997 and it was a more subdued affair, with the main celebration coming at a luncheon.
Here it lasted for four full days of tennis and camaraderie.
Four days, that is, if you were among the visitors who managed to fly out of Midway or O’Hare on Sunday before Hurricane Sandy shut down the East Coast. If not, the old ashtray adage, popularized in the nineteen-fifties, actually come true (“If we get to drinking on Sunday afternoon and insist you stay till Tuesday, please remember we don’t mean it). Many people actually did not leave until Wednesday or even Thursday, getting in many more games of tennis on the new court than expected and logging in a full week in Chicago. Others flew to other cities (Brian Owens, went straight to Aiken) or rented a car and drove back to Boston (Ken Forton).
Three former world champions were in attendance: Pete Bostwick, Howard Angus and Chris Ronaldson, as well as the current world champion Rob Fahey. Many beloved professionals came from England (Colin Lumley), Australia (a silver-bearded Barry Toates) and the U.S. (Jimmy Burke and Rob Whitehouse).
Unlike perhaps all other tennis ingatherings in the past, all five active tennis nations were represented and their national anthems were beautifully sung at the start of the Saturday evening dinner-dance below their waving national flags. Phillipe Travis, raised in St. Louis, but resident for more than a decade in Paris, his mother’s hometown, spoke for France. Australia had many stalwarts of the game like Alistair Curley (who was born and raised in Scotland), Allan Willingham, Andrew Gould, Tony Rayward and Henry Turnbull. Great Britain was led by William Maltby (T&RA chair), Susie Falkner (CEO of IRTPA), Nick Manby-Brown, Freddy Adam (realtennis.tv), Simon Talbot-Williams, Karen Hird and Sue Haswell (former #2 in the world).
The fifth country? Ireland. Alex Baring was in attendance. He is the 7th Baron Revelstoke and is in charge of Lambay Island. The open-air real tennis court there, on a verdant island off the east coast of Ireland, is presently in a state of disrepair, but Baring, having just assumed control of the island earlier this year, is determined to restore it. He has good tennis blood; his great-great-grandfather was Pierre Lorillard, who built Tuxedo Park. For those with life lists of courts, Lambey might again be the most spectacular get.
More than two dozen clubs, including all the U.S. ones, were represented in the forty-eight pairings that made up the three draws of three-quarters handicap doubles play. Many fierce (Bill the rat-catching dog was watching) but friendly matches came off in the forty-minute time slots. Some were tied when the bell rang, literally making the next point the decider. Peter Pell & William Maltby won the A draw, despite a mixup early in their first match, when trying to defend a main-wall force, Maltby managed to take a small chunk out of Pell’s scalp. In the B draw, Mike Keiser and Nick Manby-Brown beat Freddy Adam and Nick Abelson. In the C draw RCOC president Bill Bickford & Max Drake won three very tight matches in a row to clinch the title. The closest tourney was the B Consolations, with Bill Blalock & Isabelle Duncan surviving an 8-7 tussle against David & Caroline Fox.
Besides a lot of pickup squash singles, there were two other draws, one in racquets doubles and one in squash doubles. The racquets draw was enormous, co-ed and highly competitive. Rob Fahey entered; he is enormously skilled at racquets, having picked it up recently at Queens and fallen in love with it. (When I asked if he might be another Howard Angus or Jimmy Dear, he laughed and said no chance.) Will Hopton, the new assistant pro at RCOC and one of the best players in the world, joined with Susan Bulley to win 2-1 in the final over David Watson & Zach Sacks. In the finals of the squash, Peter Dunne & Peter Bender overcame Lex Miron & Arthur Drane 3-1.
The refurbished royal dedans were the swirling, busy scene of cocktails, après-match drinks, breakfasts, lunches, backgammon games and long chats. The black-tie dinner-dance on Saturday evening was truly epic. As we tucked into a crab and hearts of palm salad, lamb chops and squash torte, dozen representatives of organizations and clubs gave speeches and one-of-a-kind mementos to the Racquet Club. Everyone danced until nearly two in the morning to the sounds of the Spasmodics band.
The court has been playable since July; it had a Chicago opening in September (attended by over two hundred and fifty members) and now, after this epic weekend, is officially, nationally and internationally open. About eighty-five RCOC players are putting in a total of about sixty hours of play each week now; more than one hundred racquets have been sold. Two 2012-13 tournaments are scheduled at RCOC and as the club gains strength, one anticipates even more to come in future years. In less than a year, the club has gone from rumors and whisperings about possibly renovating the old lawn tennis court to having one of the most beautiful, playable and enjoyable courts in the world.
Note: The draws are posted below. Photos are on their way.