Playing On a Piece of History

One reporter got to compete on the historic grass courts at the West Side Tennis Club

The tennis courts in my neighborhood are not the greatest, to put it mildly. Cracks are littered across them and weeds sprout out of a couple of the gaping holes. I'm convinced that they're on an incline as well, but only when I'm losing.

This week was a completely luxurious experience in comparison, as I competed in a United States Tennis Association (USTA) tournament on the grass courts at the West Side Tennis Club. For a handful of weeks during the spring and summer, the posh country club opens up their doors to the riff-raff for a series of Men's Open tournaments. Although the entry fee was relatively steep at $85, it seemed like a small price to pay for playing on a piece of history.

From 1915-1977, the club hosted the US Open Tennis Championships, and the tournament was played on their grass courts for all but the final three years. Rod Laver, Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe, all stood on these courts and held up the US Open winner's trophy.

Wimbledon has used a thinner grass on their courts in recent years so that it slows down play, but the West Side Tennis Club still grows faster, old-school grass.

The impossibly bad bounces and slippery footing were all too present, and with most of the competitors having never set foot on a grass court, there were plenty of tennis whites covered in green by the end of the day. The fast pace of the court required players to use an almost impossibly short backswing that was more like a bunt in baseball, causing most to give up hitting from the baseline and charge the net whenever possible.

With the first matches at Wimbledon taking place at the same time as the first round in Forest Hills, I ended up having a number of Wimbledon-esque experiences in the tournament, the first of them being an incredibly dramatic match.

Despite feeling as though I was playing well, I found myself down 6-4 5-3 in my second round match. As I prepared to return serve, I looked around at the posh surroundings, and then thought about the less than idealistic scenery at my local public courts.

"I don't want this to end yet," I said to myself.

 Somehow, it didn't. I managed to come from behind to win the second set, eventually pulling out a 4-6 7-5 6-4 win after almost three hours. My parents were watching the match, and the ear-to-ear grin on my dad's face afterwards was priceless.

The quarterfinals were cancelled the following day due to rain, bringing about another Wimbledon-lite experience of having matches cancelled or severely delayed due to poor weather. The next day, rain pushed the matches back by a couple of hours before we finally got on the court.

Once again, I found myself down 6-4 5-3, now with two match points stacked against me. I looked around at the clubhouse and the "ladies who lunch" set that were watching, thinking about the multiple subway transfer commute back home.

I still didn't want it to end yet.

Those two match points were erased, then two more while down 6-5, followed by two more in the tiebreaker. Finally, I won the second set 7-6.

By this point, we were the final match on for the day and actually had a few dozen people watching us while they ate dinner.

It was a weird experience being the background entertainment, but I had a final Wimbledon-esque moment of an actual crowd watching my match and commenting on our shots. (I'm convinced the applause I got was louder).

Unfortunately, I ended up losing another match that went three hours by 6-4 6-7 6-3. As we both trudged off court with a smattering of applause, I bent down and pulled up a piece of the grass at the edge of the court.

It's not often you can say that you played on a piece of history, and even rarer to say that you got to take a piece home.


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