Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.
Visiting Newport, Rhode Island
If you happen to be walking down Newport’s Bellevue Avenue, you could easily stroll right by and not notice the International Tennis Hall of Fame tucked between rows of swanky shops. But if you do take notice and decide to venture inside, it reveals a finely manicured carpet of green and the historic architecture of the Newport Casino.
You are not here to gamble as the name may imply, but to pay homage to the titans of the game of tennis and to tour this celebrated venue that still plays host to the Hall of Fame Open every summer drawing top players from around the world.
History of the Newport Casino
The Newport Casino was opened in 1880 and was originally designed to be a social club. It contained grass tennis courts, squash courts, rooms for cards and billiards, a ballroom, and a theater, everything necessary to make it the social center of Newport during the Gilded Age of the late 19th century. The Casino remained the social gathering spot for Newport’s elite through the roaring 1920s but fell into disrepair during and following the Great Depression. By 1950 the building was on the verge of demolition until Jimmy Van Alen came to the rescue.
Jimmy Van Alen
The Tennis Hall of Fame was established in 1954 by Jimmy Van Alen, who at the time was the President of the Newport Casino. He is also the creator of the current tiebreaker scoring system in tennis. Slated to be demolished, Van Alen thought the Casino would be the perfect location for a Tennis Hall of Fame, given Newport’s long history with the game. He was successful in his efforts and the National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame was established. Years later, in 1986, it was recognized by the International Tennis Federation and since then has been known as the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Touring the Casino Grounds
The meticulously maintained grounds of the Hall of Fame are open to the public and you can explore the facility to get a look at the grass courts and the exterior of the historic casino building. Upon entering the grounds, you will be greeted by a single grass court flanked by a statue of tennis great, Fred Perry, and Hall of Fame founder, Jimmy Van Alen.
As you explore the premises, you will come to the Bill Talbert Stadium Court, where championships matches are still held. There are numerous grass courts in the complex as well as a clay court, hard courts, and indoor courts. The Hall of Fame Tennis Club operates on the grounds of the Newport Casino and members can be seen playing on the outdoor courts as you tour the grounds.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum
Adjacent to the statue of Fred Perry is the entrance to the International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum. The first floor contains the welcome center, ticket office, and a photo booth where visitors can have their photo superimposed on a couple of nice background shots from the casino grounds. It is a fun way to start your visit to the museum, and the photo booth is free.
As you head upstairs to enter the museum, you will come to the Hall of Fame room that contains the induction plaques of all the Hall of Famers. Reading the story of all the greats of the game certainly brings back a lot of memories for me from when I first became addicted to the game in the 1970s. All the greats from my era are there: Laver, Smith, Connors, Ashe, McEnroe, Borg, Lendl, King, Goolagong, Evert, and Navratilova. It was a significant era for tennis, perhaps the Golden Age for the game when it became mainstream for much of the world.
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From the Hall of Fame room, you will move on to exhibits that highlight the progress made in the game from its inception to today. It really is amazing how technology has transformed the game and makes it extremely difficult to compare players from different eras. The advancements made in racket technology, as well as fitness regimens, have made the game of tennis much different from its heyday. You will also see how fashion has impacted the game and seeing the dress of early tennis players makes me wonder how the heck they ran around in those outfits.
Of particular interest to me was the Grand Slam Gallery that highlights the history of the game’s four major tournaments. Any fan of the game of tennis knows that we are currently in an era that has produced arguably the three greatest men’s players of all time in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic.
Between the three, they have won—as of this writing—60 of the last 74 major championships dating back to 2003, an astonishing feat. With each of them having won 20 majors, it is hard to decide which of the three is the greatest of all time, unless of course, we consider the greats of yesteryear, of which there are many valid contenders. How about Laver, Gonzales, Rosewall, Budge, Tilden, Perry, etc.? The list could go on and on.
The newest exhibit in the Hall of Fame is the Roger Federer Hologram theatre. Designed to make you feel as though you are in the room with Roger, it is a hi-tech look into why one of tennis’s greatest players loves this game. Check it out.
- July–August: Daily 10 am–6 pm
- September: Daily 10 am–5 pm
- October–December: Thursday–Sunday, 10 am–5 pm
- To walk the grounds of the Newport Casino is free of charge.
- Adult: $16
- Seniors (62+): $13
- Kids 12 & Under: Free
- Group (Min of 10): $11
- 10 or More Guests: $11 per Guest plus $50 Flat Fee
- Less Than 10 Guests: $16 per Guest plus $50 Flat Fee
Bellevue Avenue Attractions in Newport
I hope you enjoyed this visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The history of the game and its marquee players is fascinating, and the grounds of the Newport Casino are beautiful. It is conveniently located on Bellevue Avenue and is within walking distance from most of Newport’s other major attractions including the mansions, the Audrain Auto Museum, historic Thames Street, the Newport Art Museum, and the Cliff Walk.
© 2021 Bill De Giulio