Leander Paes and Vijay Amritraj: International Tennis Hall of Fame
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Leander Paes and Vijay Amritraj: International Tennis Hall of Fame

March 10, 2024

By U.B. Acharya

History: In 1879, James Gordon Bennett Jr. commissioned a resort facility at Newport, Rhode Island, USA, for the wealthy Newport summer residents. It was then essentially a casino, an exclusive retreat for the rich and famous East  Coast Americans.

The facility added in 1880 a modern club. Along with an excellent clubhouse, this complex included 13 grass tennis courts, an indoor tennis facility with three courts, three outdoor hard courts and a casino theatre.

Further Development: The United States Lawn Tennis Association held its first National Championships at this club in 1881. This event was held annually until 1914, by which time tennis had become the key attraction of this facility. After the First World War, the Championship was shifted in 1920 to Flushing Medows, New York.

But by 1950, the retreat was struggling financially as the tourism preferences changed and at that time it was at the risk of being demolished and sold to private developers. But the building was purchased and saved by Jimmy and Candy Van Alen, wealthy Newport summer residents. A sportsman himself, Jimmy, in 1954, established the National Tennis Hall of Fame and a Museum in the casino. The combination of tennis courts and the museum allowed the facility to be saved financially.

Jimmy Van Alen was elected as the first President of the Hall in 1957. He intended the facility to be “the shrine of the ideals of the game” and also to “honour both players and other contributors to the sport of tennis.” It is a non-profit organisation with a goal of inspiring the sport of tennis around the world.

In 1975, with the induction of England’s Fred Perry, the organisation became the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF). It was recognised in 1986 by the International Tennis Federation. It is interesting to note that Vijay Amritraj is a current member of the Board of Governors with Kim Clijsters as the Honorary President and Patrick McEnroe as the President.

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Museum: The museum started by Van Alen chronicles the history of sport from 12th Century to the present day. It has over 30,000 objects, a research facility with 5,000 books and 3000+ audio-visual materials. The collection is displayed year-round in the museum’s 13,000 square feet of exhibit space.

The museum was renovated in 2015 and has become a Smithsonian affiliate.

Infosys Hall of Fame Open: This tournament is held annually in July just prior to the US Open Championship. It is an ATP 250 event and is the only grass court tournament in the whole of United States. In the past, most top male players used to come here to compete for the Van Alen Cup as a curtain raiser for the US Open Championship.

However, after US Open changed from grass court to hard court in 1977, this tournament lost its lustre and top contenders for the US Open stopped playing this tournament. Some of the prominent winners are American John Isner (four times), Mardy Fish, Australian  Lleyton Hewitt and Indian Vijay Amritraj (thrice).   

Members: Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is the ultimate in Tennis. It represents sum of one’s achievements and contributions as among the most important and transportive in tennis history. There is a seven-step process starting with nomination, a review and ultimately voting by the group and the fans. To be inducted, 75% of the votes are needed.

The results are announced in January each year and the actual induction takes place in July during their annual tennis tournament. First Hall of Fame members were inducted in 1955 and as of 2023, a total of 262 inductees from 27 countries have been recognised. The beauty is that a tennis champion or an important contributor to the sport is inducted several years later than their achievements. Thus, you will not find any of the present-day champions in this list.

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Going through the names of the inductees, I notice that practically all USA players who have won at least one Major title have been included but not so for many non-US players. This is because the other country’s players have not got the necessary 75% votes! Among the recent inductees are Li Na (China) in 2019, Goran Ivanisevic (Croatia) in 2020 and Lleyton Hewitt  (Australia) in 2022.

In a recent announcement, ITHF declared that Leander Paes with 18 Major Doubles titles (in the players category) and Vijay Amritraj (in the contributors’ category) have been elected for the honour for 2024. Kim Clijsters, while congratulating these two outstanding personalities, said that she is “thrilled” to welcome them into this august body.

While Li Na is the first Asian lady to be inducted, Leander Paes and Vijay Amritraj would be the first Asian gentlemen players. They will be inducted in a ceremony on July 20, 2024 and it would be a red-letter day for Indians.

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