Forest Hills Stadium hosts Davis Cup match for first time since 1959
A week has passed since the United States Open electrified the tennis world with its enchanting unpredictability and rejuvenated fan base. But unknown to many, top tennis lingered in New York City as the Davis Cup made a calm and unusual return to the West Side Tennis Club.
Fewer than 200 lucky fans – all members of the venerable club – dotted the nearly 100-year-old, 14,000-seat Forest Hills Stadium in Queens on Saturday for the first Davis Cup draw at the venue since 1959.
But the American team was nowhere to be found.
Instead, South Africa hosted Venezuela – two teams looking for a home. They found it, tucked away in leafy Forest Hills, once home to the United States Championships (later the US Open), until the event moved three miles down the Grand Central Parkway. until Flushing in 1978.
Ten days earlier, Lloyd Harris was there, playing in front of 20,000 fans at the US Open. Saturday was completely different. Yes, there was part of the pomp and circumstance of the Davis Cup – there was an opening ceremony with player introductions, flags and national anthems from both countries, and team uniforms.
But the raucous and rowdy atmosphere sometimes associated with many Davis Cup fixtures, especially in South America, was decidedly absent, at least in the opener.
“It’s a very unique situation, playing a draw between South Africa and Venezuela in New York,” said Harris. “But that’s pretty cool. It has worked well for me since I am here all the time. It wasn’t too difficult to walk four blocks.
If the idea of two countries from different continents playing a Davis Cup match in the ancestral homeland of American tennis seemed like a mismatch, so did Harris’ first meeting on the court. He had no trouble sending Venezuela’s No.2 Brandon Perez, 6-0, 6-0, in the opener of the two-day event (play resumes on Sunday).
Perez is ranked 1,596th in the world and plays for the University of Nebraska. He knew a few weeks ago that he would face Harris in the Davis Cup. Like many tennis fans, he watched Harris soar throughout the summer season, scoring huge wins in a streak that included beating Rafael Nadal in Washington before reaching the bottom eight at Flushing.
Then, after Harris’ loss to semi-finalist Alexander Zverev, he moved from an Intercontinental hotel on the east side of Manhattan – one of the main hotels for players in the US Open – to one on the west side, where the headquarters of the South African team was located. He has spent the last 10 days recovering, training and sightseeing with his girlfriend. They rented bikes, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, and cycled all around downtown and to Central Park.
Harris, from Cape Town, has been in New York for a month, long enough to feel like a local.
“I’ve learned to go fast and drink lots of coffee,” he says, “and watch out for cyclists rushing past you at 200 kilometers an hour. I have almost been run over by cyclists about 10 times already.
Under normal conditions, Harris could have returned home to South Africa immediately after the US Open. But South Africa has a high rate of coronavirus infections, making travel restrictions difficult for visitors and residents making round trips. (Another tie also took place on neutral U.S. soil on Friday and Saturday as New Zealand faced South Korea at the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI).
Venezuela, meanwhile, have not been allowed to host Davis Cup matches since 2016, when the International Tennis Federation declared them unsafe for travel due to the political and economic situation.
“I’m still waiting for the opportunity to play at home in front of all my friends and family,” said Perez. “Until then, I have my parents here and my girlfriend. “
In the second singles match on Saturday, Philip Henning of South Africa defeated Venezuelan Ricardo Rodriguez, 6-4, 6-4, as the small crowd came alive on a sunny and windy day that made the least a South African supporter felt good. at home.
“You served a perfect South African day,” said Gavin Crookes, president of Tennis South Africa.
Venezuela was supposed to be the nominal host, but it allowed South Africa to take over and have the West Side Tennis Club play. Jason Weir-Smith, a former university and professional player from Johannesburg, is the club’s tennis director. Tennis South Africa contacted him and the club were eager to host.
“It was 60 years ago that the club last hosted a Davis Cup,” said Weir-Smith. “It was important for us to get back on the map. “
It was also the first Davis Cup game anywhere in New York since 1981, when the United States, with John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, faced Ivan Lendl and Czechoslovakia in Flushing.
Tickets for this event were not available to the public because, according to Weir-Smith, the cost of permits, insurance and staff was prohibitive for Tennis South Africa, which would have been responsible for the costs as the host nation. Instead, only 200 club members were allowed to enter the site, which is sometimes more than what is sometimes available for challenger events and college matches.
The meeting takes place on a hard blue court which was renovated in July specifically for the Davis Cup match.
Monika Jain, president of the West Side club, was among the spectators on Saturday. She watched from metal benches after playing a game of tennis on one of the club’s many grass, clay and hard courts.
“It’s very exciting for us to be able to host this event here,” said Jain. “With our closeness to the US Open, we believe we can do more in the future.”
The West Side Tennis Club, with its iconic Tudor clubhouse, hosted the American Championships from 1915 to 1977 and saw some of the sport’s greatest players including Bill Tilden, Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Althea Gibson, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert win titles.
It represents a different era in professional tennis, when the game was dominated by the international elites. This weekend, however, it served as a temporary landing point for some of tennis’s temporary homeless.
“We would love to play in front of our people, but unfortunately we haven’t had that chance in recent years,” said Rodriguez. “On the other hand, playing in such a historic place is very special for me. You feel the history and the great moments that happened here. Being a part of the new story makes me proud.