Nancy Jeffett - president and chairman emeritus of MCB inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Billie Jean King

It is once a year that Newport, Rhode and specifically the International Tennis Hall of Fame is host to tennis’s elite, they are players, contributors, benefactors and fans. The Saturday or Semifinal Day of the Hall of Fame Championships is preceded by the induction ceremony which welcomes new hall of famers to the ranks of the most influential and accomplished people in tennis, and will forever be part of the game's rich history. The induction is wrapped in pomp and circumstance, enveloped in the magnificent backdrop provided by the Hall of Fame. This year was no exception, as the sport's leaders, benefactors, stakeholders, and decision makers surrounded the class of 2015, many of them Hall of Famers themselves.

The ceremony on stadium court, as always is moving and a treat for the fans to witness history and be so close to many tennis greats.  I caught up with Patrick McEnroe, before the induction ceremony got underway. It is hard not to be taken by his truly outgoing nature. I waited to speak with him, as he was in a deep conversation with a fan about the possible locations of Davis Cup matches. He took a great deal of time and interaction he listened carefully and offered a well thought response about the process. It is not often in professional sports to witness such a thing. So I asked Patrick about Newport, the Hall of Fame. “What’s not to like? This place is wonderful and the new museum is spectacular.”  He attributes the growth and evolution of the venue to Chris Clouser's leadership. “Chris has really made things happen and his desire to make the Hall of Fame the global repository for the sport of tennis has happened.”  I am quite certain we will see Patrick McEnroe inducted, as his playing career was solid, his contributions in, broadcasting, in player development, and as Davis Cup Captain have benefited the sport immeasurably.

Billie- Jean King Receives Hall of Fame Ring

The Induction ceremony was headed off with a presentation of the Hall of Fame ring to tennis legend Billie - Jean King. Both Rosie Casals and Owen Davidson celebrated, and honored their friend and doubles partner, Billie Jean. King was inducted in 1987 but, at the time, the Hall of Fame did not have rings, so Saturday the mother of modern tennis received her very own, before a thankful crowd. Rosie Casals and Owen Davidson did the honors.

Rosie Casals acknowledged all the work done by King to affect change, “You have made a difference in the lives you've touched and the things you've done.  I am one of those recipients.  That's the person I would like people to know and to share with everybody, to celebrate, in addition to all of your accomplishments, your tennis career, and as an advocate for women and social change. They say friends are like stars.  You may not see them all the time, but they're always there.  To a very special friend and star, congratulations on receiving your beautiful Hall of Fame ring. “Davidson remained grateful for her partnership and also acknowledged the activism Bille-Jean King had a positive impact on the men’s game as well. “Nobody in the world, man or woman, deserves a Hall of Fame ring more than Billie Jean…. I don't think anybody did as much for the game, and outside the game, as Billie Jean, who can be considered the mother of all tennis, not just women's tennis, but men's tennis.  None of us would be here today, I don't believe, without the contribution that Billie Jean made. “

A happy Billie Jean received her ring and talked to the fans about the hurdles, bumps, bruises and the successes.  “Before Wimbledon had formed the Women's Tennis Association, which took many years to happen, with help from Rosie lobbying to get all the top players, get everybody on the same page, to form our association, the same as the men did in 1972.  I wanted us to be together, the men did not want us, so we went off to Plan B. We both survived and flourished, but it was very tumultuous times, very scary times.  As I can say as one of the leaders, it was a very lonely and difficult time, but I knew it was worth it.”  King also heralded the new museum upgrades, “It is fantastic.  There's a lot of interactive things which is much better for the young people.  That's what they like.  It's really keeping up with the times…  Like Roger Federer's hologram, if you haven't been through it, take your children.”  

Amélie Mauresmo

The first member inducted from the class of 2015 was Amélie Mauresmo.  Ms. Mauressmo could not travel as she is but will be celebrated at a future date but her credentials made the trip. Stan Smith inducted her and described her accomplishments, “Amélie will be here next year, but we want to celebrate her this year as she's in the class of 2015. Descriptions of Amélie include powerful, elegant, efficient, aggressive, filled with finesse, a complete player.  She was known for her powerful one-handed backhand.  She could hit top, slice, she could dropshot.  She had remarkable net play, tactically strong, very smart. She held the No.1 ranking for 39 weeks and was the first French player to be ranked No.1 in the Open era. She won a silver at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and in 2005 she won the WTA Tour Championships.  2006 she was the singles champion in Australia and Wimbledon, defeating Justine Henin. She was a finalist in 1999 in the Australian Open where she was unseeded and scored upsets over three seeded players, including Lindsay Davenport, to earn her spot in the final.  In total she won 25 singles titles and compiled a career singles record of 545 against 227 losses. Amélie is a dedicated member of the French Fed Cup team and holds the record for the most singles wins with an impressive 30-9 record.  She helped the French team win the Fed Cup in 2003.  In 2012 she became the captain of the French Fed Cup team.” Although not in attendance the crowd clearly approved of Smith’s description.

Nancy Jeffett

Inducted by Pam Shriver, Jeffett’s achievements as a contributor are nothing short of amazing. Remember Jeffet’s contributions to the game came before women were welcome in sports in general. She was a pioneer pusher and she and her and best friend, Maureen Connolly made inroads from which tennis benefits today. Nancy's friend Maureen Connolly “Little Mo” inspired an entire (pre Title IX) generation of girls, me among them. That is why Shriver’s recollections were so moving. Said Shriver, “Nancy is a lifetime contributor, earning today's induction because of her early risk-taking as a WTA promoter, even before there was a WTA.  Her co-founding of theMaureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation, now memorializing her great friend, Maureen Connolly Brinker, Nancy's legacy today continues through the foundation that helps develop and support junior tennis players worldwide. The event that touched my career the most was the Virginia Slims of Dallas.  Nancy's willingness to risk being a WTA Tour tournament owner starting in the early years of women's professional tennis, the WTA Tour today where players from 92 nations are competing for over $130 million in prize money and play for quality in all four major events, to Serena Williams leading all tennis players this year in prize money, is in no small part due to her groundbreaking work.”  Jeffet’s pioneering was seen as a game changer for inclusion as well, as Shriver described Jeffet’s bold move to take tennis public, “I want to briefly mention was an event that Nancy chaired in 1965.  It was a Davis Cup tie in Dallas, a team led by Arthur Ashe.  Nancy's decision to play the Davis Cup tie in a public park, where all people black and white could come see Arthur play.  This move to a public facility foreshadowed the movement later by both tennis and golf to hold major events at public facilities.”

She remains the Chairman Emeritus of the Maureen Connolly Brinker Foundation (MCB) and was accompanied to Newport by family and friends including; Mo Connolly’s daughters and her own daughters who have taken on major roles at the MCB Foundation; President Cindy Brinker Simmons, Vice President Brenda Brinker Bottum, Vice President Elizabeth Jeffett and Executive Vice President Carol Weyman.

A humble and appreciative Jeffet accepted the honor in her very own style, “Thank you. There's not much more I can say.  An awful lot has already been said.  I appreciate you all being here today.  I've had an extraordinary life with tennis.  I continue to, even though I can't walk these days.  I'm planning on having a lot more influence on tennis.  It's been a real love of the game that has brought me to this situation.”

David Hall

Hall inducted by his coach, friend and mentor, Rich Berman. Berman told the story of Hall’s incredible resolve. “It is a few weeks before the 1996 Paralympics. We had been working non-stop.  However, while working out at the gym, David injured his arm so badly, the orthopedic surgeon that we saw insisted he should withdraw from the '96 Games, since his ruptured bicep tendon could be a career-ending injury. That night after dinner, I sheepishly looked at David and sadly said, Well, mate, it looks like we're going to have to sit this one out. 
David stared intensely at me and said, I'm playing.  My mates are counting on me, and so is Tennis Australia. I still remember this like it was yesterday. So I learned to wrap his arm, and it was PT every day until the games.  David had to change his style of play to be more aggressive so he could end points quickly.  And, yes, as you imagined, he won bronze in singles and a silver in doubles. So here I am, the luckiest of coaches introducing my friend and hero to you and to the Hall of Fame.  Many champions have been here and many more will come, but none with a bigger heart, none who played the game harder, none more fair or more noble. I have to say that in addition to the three times I was told I was a father, this moment is my proudest.” An emotional Berman finished by summoning his friend to accept the honor, “David, before I embarrass both of us anymore, come on up here.  Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!”

Hall accepted with his trademark grace and humility, “Tennis has given me more than I could ever repay.  It took me in directions I never imagined.  Tea with our prime minister, hitting balls with the Prince of Brunei, and meeting movie stars in Monaco.  It took me to faraway lands, forging friendships, and experiencing different cultures.  It gave me a purpose, a direction, it filled me up when I needed it and rewarded me with great joy when I worked for it. I never dreamed I could be as successful as I was.  When people recite my career stats, I still find it hard to comprehend.  I had goals and worked as hard as I could to reach them.  I don't think of myself as special or extraordinary, I'm just a kid from Budgewoi who loved to hit balls that was blessed to be surrounded by great people.”

As the straw hats, floral dresses and fine linens left the ceremony on Bill Talbert Stadium Court, it was apparent we had all witnessed greatness.

Carol Anne Costa in addition to being a MINDSETTER for GoLocalProv has solid roots in the tennis world. Costa founded the Rhode Island High School Tennis Coaches Association. A Rhode Island Interscholastic High School Coach from 1981–1990. She is also a Rhode Island High School Tennis Coaches Hall of Famer, inducted in the class of 2011. Carol will be reporting from the grass courts of International Tennis Hall of Fame on the tennis and so much more, as the Hall of Fame Championships main draw singles and doubles are underway.