The Ladies Champion, Angelique Kerber said the US Open was the tournament where her career turned around in 2012, describing America as “where dreams come true.” The Men’s champion, Stan Wawrinka, spoke on court about the tragedy of September 11, 2001. What happened in America that day has become a global experience. Terrorism knows no borders. It is the greatest threat to world peace.
The extension of this symbolism is that Katrina Adams, an African-American, is the current President of the USTA. Her tenure saw the historic opening of the Roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium and the farewell to the first bowl, Louis Armstrong Stadium, named after “Satchmo,” the legendary saxophonist, who practiced on that spot in Corona Park before Hy Zausner (developer and founder of Port Washington Tennis Academy) led the construction of a new home for the US Open, bidding farewell to the private West Side Tennis Club Forest Hills.
In 1997, The USTA Board of Harry Marmion (President), Alan Schwartz (Vice President) and Ms. Page Crossland, named the new main bowl in honour of Arthur Robert Ashe, the first winner of the US Open in 1968, when amateurs and touring professionals competed together for the first time.
It was a controversial decision but well reasoned. What about the other greats: Jack Cramer, Frank Sedgman, Bobbie Riggs, Pancho Gonzalez and Stan Smith? 1997 was also the year of Venus Williams’ debut when she played her way straight to the finals. Stan Wawrinka is right. In the midst of the trivia we call sports; we may not forget the greater concerns of humanity. Each one contributes to the progress of mankind by utilizing his/her “moment in the sun” to make a point. In doing so, each fulfills the words of John F. Kennedy’s book “Profiles in Courage”. Bobbie Smith did so at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Muhammad Ali did so with his “I aint got no quarrel with them Viet Kong.”
They all stated emphatically: “Yes, they may take away the honours, but I took a stand when I had the moment in history to do so.” Yet the politicians and business moguls of sports always demand that “sports’ be separated from real life.
There is discrimination in human life. Racism is our human misapplication of the Creation Law of attraction of homogeneous species (L’oi d’affinite in French). Its effect is that birds of the same feather flock together. It becomes injustice when those who wield political power (running the affairs of state) institutionalize discrimination. From time immemorial, every colonizing nation set up administrative systems to subjugate the inhabitants. The segregationist policies in American deep south and apartheid in South Africa, a country with enclaves for all the settler nationalities (Dutch, English, Italian, German, Indian) each with its own structures of human life.
As in the USA, UK and even Nigeria, tennis was played on the grass courts of clubs exclusively for the wealthy; and in America, the WASP. My good friend Fred Drasner (owner of Washington Redskins Football Club and Publisher of New York Daily News) had difficulty in effort to join the Millbrook Golf and Tennis Club.
Extenuating circumstances compelled them to appoint a Director of Tennis from my Office, Tennis Week, such that in 1999, I was the only black person in the entire club. Such was the situation in the Meadow Club (Southampton), and similar clubs across the nation like the Westside Tennis Club (original venue of the United States Championships). Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe could not develop their tennis in those “exclusively” white clubs. The African Americans started their own American Tennis Association, through which Dr. Johnson nurtured Ashe to stardom.
Richard Williams knew this. He started training his girls himself in the Public Courts of Compton California. Then he moved to Florida. He had a tennis instructor for each stage of their development. The costs of the tennis lessons were paid from Oracene’s earnings as a nurse. Then Venus debuted at the 1997 US Open; the year of AA Stadium. With beads in hair and braces over teeth, she played her way to the final. On that Championship day, her opponent Martina Hingis warmed up on Practice Court One while I rallied with Pam Shriver on Court Two. Venus warmed up on the last Practice Court with fence almost touching Grand in the direction of Grand Central Parkway. I looked across and saw no coach or warm up partner, but a crowd of her mother and others.
I had a sense of guilt but wondered if I would have been allowed to help, instead of giving Pam Shriver volley practice before her Doubles match with partner Martina Navratilova. Hingis defeated Venus in straight sets and I asked her in the Interview if she felt she had adequate practice prior to the match. Two years later, baby sister Serena defeated Hingis to win the title; with President Bill Clinton calling immediately from New Zealand! The rest is history.
Martin Luther King told mankind that “the arc of the (moral) Universe is long but is bent towards Justice.) Every generation of Americans has contributed towards that universal goal because their country is a nation founded on abiding eternal principles: life, liberty, freedom, pursuit of happiness; constituting the heritage of “these united states.
At every milestone in the nation’s history, those eternal principles are evoked. The Civil Rights Movement revealed that human beings must play their individual roles to ensure the survival of liberty and the advent of justice, because “injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Through all the generations of struggle “to create a more perfect union,” sports have been a part of the fabric. The exclusive clubs still exist. Children of members are pampered and have such a plateful of activities; they rarely become professional athletes. American domination in tennis came from taking the game of tennis to public parks, professionalizing the teaching of tennis by erstwhile tennis bums (the derogatory appellation for the suntanned, handsome, male player teaching wives, children and occasionally the fathers, when they came to the summer homes on weekends between Memorial Day (May 29) and Labour Day (September 7).
Then we had Summer Camps, such as the All-American Sports in Amherst Massachusetts; from where Nick Bollitieri migrated to Florida (where the sun keeps shining); thereby pioneering the all-year Tennis Training Institutions. Players from abroad, especially the splinter nations of the Soviet Union, flooded the camps in Florida and Texas; the Europe started camps in the sunny Mediterranean. Andy Murray and brother Jamie (winner of the 2016 US Open Doubles with partner Soares of Brazil) were coached in Spain. It is no wonder that players from Europe now dominate tennis.
This year’s champions in New York: Angelique Kerber (Germany) and Stan Warwinka (Switzerland) are evidence of the European domination. In addition, they wield the same Yonex Tennis Racket. It would delight Japan that, in the end, the limelight was taken from rackets made by Wilson, Babolat, Head and Prince.