A Day for Doubles

Written By: achangeofends - Jul• 13•10

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent last weekend in the lovely town of Newport, RI at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Unlike most events, in Newport, a semifinal ticket will cost you more than a ticket to the finals and is often difficult to come by. The reason for this is that a Saturday ticket includes both singles semifinals as well as the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and even a doubles semifinal for kicks. I was mostly looking forward to the semifinal matches as I wasn’t particularly familiar with most of this year’s inductees (let me know when they’re inducting Roger Federer and I’ll be first in line.) The Hall of Fame decided to dedicate this year’s inductions to doubles, a facet of the sport which most fans ignore for the more glamorous singles events. I’ll be truthful, I don’t follow doubles nearly as closely as I do the singles, especially on the WTA tour, but it’s a sham that doubles is so underrated by fans. I love watching doubles in person. It’s like getting double for your money. You get to see four players instead of just two and doubles matches are generally on outer courts early on in an event even if they feature big name players. Plus, doubles offers a very different kind of tennis, almost solely dependant on the serve and volley. The points are shorter and faster but can often be quite exciting.

Back to the point, 5 of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees were known best for their achievements in doubles where they all won numerous Grand Slams, including two incredibly successful teams. The most famous of the inductees were the “Woodies,” Australians Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge. They racked up an impressive 61 ATP titles (a record only recently tied by the Bryan brothers,) 11 Grand Slams, and both a gold and silver Olympic medal. They were introduced by Ray Ruffels, the man who helped bring the pair together. Ray explained that he had been working with Todd and together, they had prepared a list of potential partners. Todd brought up Mark. Ray proceeded to tell an amusing anecdote about how hesitant he was to seek out Woodforde, not because he believed him to be a poor choice but because he believed Woodforde would resent Ruffels for denying him a prestigious scholarship years earlier. Lucky for everyone, Woodforde agreed to partner with Woodbridge and the Woodies partnership was born. Woodforde, apparently the sappier of the two, gave an emotional thank you to his friends and family while Woodbridge followed with a shorter thank you for his camp. He then remarked what a shame it was that he and Mark had to be split up for this year’s Wimbledon invitational tournament as Woodford is now considered a senior. He made up for the jibe by mentioning that Mark won the event, while he had lost his group. It’s clear there’s a great camaraderie between these two and they seemed very nice, wandering the grounds, stopping to chat with fans and holding an autograph session in the museum.

The Woodies induction was preceded by the induction of Natasha Zvereva and Gigi Fernandez, introduced by Pam Shriver. Honestly, I had never heard of the pair before as they were most successful during my early childhood and aren’t often mentioned in tennis trivia, eclipsed by the slightly more recognizable team of Pam Shriver and Martina Navratilova. Pam gave a lovely tribute before handing the floor to Gigi, who had 48 family members attending the event. She gave a heartfelt speech about her partnership with Natasha and what it meant to be the first female Puerto Rican professional athlete. Nearing tears at many points throughout the speech, Natasha provided a much needed shoulder rub before taking over and giving a brief thank you to the Hall of Fame for procuring her a visa despite the travel ban from Belarus. Tennis.com did a nice piece on Zvereva in their Daily Spin section last week if you’re interested in learning more. I met Gigi at her autograph session on Sunday and she was very friendly, personalizing each signature and chatting with each fan.

For me, the most interesting and inspirational inductee was under the contributor category: Brad Parks. Parks is the pioneer of wheelchair tennis. He was paralyzed after a trick skiing accident at age 18 and used tennis a way to help his recovery. Over time, he found other wheelchair bound sportsmen to play with and helped develop the sport to where it is today. Wheelchair tennis is included at all of the Grand Slam tournaments and several other ATP tournaments as well as having its own tour around the world. I first got the opportunity to see wheelchair tennis earlier this year in Rotterdam and it’s really fascinating to watch. The upper body strength that the players have is absolutely staggering and the only difference from regular tennis is that the ball can bounce twice. I would highly suggest checking it out if you get the chance.

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