- The International Tennis Hall of Fame
In front of 194 Bellevue Avenue are the letters "C-A-S-I-N-O" arranged in small brown tiles below a brick archway situated within a quaint row of local shops. Through this archway and two sets of propped-open double doors, one can see the bright green grass and painted white lines of Heffeman Court at the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF). South of Heffeman Court is the original Newport Casino that houses the internationally recognized tennis museum, now a national historic landmark. The ITHF was reviewed for the Journal of Sports History by Nancy E. Spencer in 1996, and this review will discuss the museum's more-recent development of interactive exhibits, its 25,000-object archive in the Information Research Center, and the ITHF within the broader tennis and sporting world.
The Newport Casino was built in 1880 and served as a social club for upper-class patrons during the summer. Contrary to what its name implies, the Newport Casino is void of gambling activity and retains its meaning derived from la casina, Italian for "little house." By the 1940s, the social element of the club faded, while tennis continued to draw increasingly large crowds, particularly on Bill Talbert Center Court, formerly known as Horse Shoe Grandstand. When the building faced possible demolition after a fire in 1953, Jimmy Val Alen, who was president of Newport Casino at the time, successfully petitioned the United States Lawn Tennis Association—now known as the United States Tennis Association (USTA)—to reclaim the structure and establish the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Just past the entrance of the museum is a kiosk where visitors can select two players in the ITHF's first-ever fan vote for the Hall of Fame's induction of its 2019 class. To be inducted in the Hall of Fame, a candidate must receive at least 75 percent of votes from the Official Voting Group, which is comprised of fan-vote results, journalists, historians, and fellow hall-of-famers. Player candidate eligibility requires at least five years of retirement before nomination, and candidates are evaluated based on their career results at the highest international level, with consideration also given to sportsmanship, integrity, and character.
The museum is chronologically organized into three sections: "The Birth of Tennis," which features various iterations of tennis since the twelfth century, clothing and racquet evolution, and the establishment of lawn tennis (the most familiar version of tennis today) in the United States in 1881; "The Popular Game," which explores tennis's integration within popular culture and involvement with social issues beyond sports, particularly within the realms of fashion, technology, media coverage, African American tennis organizations under Jim Crow, and growing disparity between men's and women's tennis; and "The Open Era," which commenced with the official institution of professional tennis (and the end of what was colloquially referred to as "shamateurism") in 1968.
Since Spencer's 1996 review, the museum and its galleries have made technological advances, particularly regarding visitor interaction. For example, in one gallery, visitors can compete in a virtual tennis match, choosing categories of popular culture, tennis history, [End Page 399] and rules of the game from a tennis-court-themed touch-screen interface, scoring points if they answer each trivia question correctly. Another museum highlight is a hologram of Roger Federer, where visitors feel as though they are in the same room with arguably one of the greatest players in the open era. Clad in his classic Nike gear (although he signed with Uniqlo in early 2018) and holding his Wilson tennis racquet, Federer describes the top-five reasons he loves tennis, as he hits forehands, backhands, and his iconic serve. Spencer's previous review addressed the museum's visual display of pivotal moments and controversies in tennis, such as the creation of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) by Billie Jean King and the increasingly young age at which tennis players turn pro, including Jennifer Capriati at age thirteen. Since then, the women's tour is exponentially stronger and more competitive, due to a combination of technological advancements in equipment and gear, increased sophistication...