The Highest Honor in Tennis

By Jane Voigt

Newport, RI, July 12, 2014 — Nick Bollettieri was late. 

“He’s out giving a clinic,” Christopher Clousser, chairman of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, joked. “We Italians like to come in through the back door,” Nick said, waving to the group of journalists gathered for a pre-induction press conference, as if he was a Hollywood celebrity about to be roasted. 

His gesture fit. Nick is a tennis celebrity, endowed with the wonderful gift of gab and a generosity toward tennis players young and old, which inspired their own passions for the game. Count them … 10 number-one players.

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Nick Bollettieri waves to crowds as he proudly shows off his plaque that represents his entry into The International Tennis Hall of Fame, 2014. Photo credit Kate Whitney Lucey

Nick was humbled today, among all his crazy comments and side jokes. He revealed his gratitude for his life and career in tennis, plus his deep appreciation for everyone he has met and for those who have helped. “I’ve been bailed out many times,” he said, reflecting on a time when he had to sell his house and the Nick Bollettieri Academy to current owners, IMG. Admittedly, Nick is not a businessman.  

Bollettieri’s gratitude and humility were echoed by all five inductees that received “the highest honor in tennis” this afternoon in Newport. 

Included this year were Lindsay Davenport, Jane Brown Grimes, John Barrett, and Chantal Vandierendonck. They each became a ’tennis hall of famer,’ before the end of the afternoon.

Their contributions are numerous. They all love tennis. They were all honored by the occasion and will remember it always.

“I came as quite a shock that my name had been forwarded,” John Barrett said about his nomination, his smile as endearing as his voice that filled the airwaves between 1971-2006 as he announced Wimbledon for the BBC and became known as the "Voice of Wimbledon.” 

Steve Flink, tennis journalist, introduced Barrett, calling him a “masterful communicator.” Barrett was wrote four volumes of Wimbledon, The Official History.

Barrett’s love, admiration and respect for Angela Mortimer Barrett, his wife and fellow Hall of Famer, came through loud and clear today. He bowed to her, at one point, in reverence.  They are the third couple to have been inducted. 

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From left to right, the five 2014 inductees into The International Tennis Hall of Fame: Nick Bollettieri; Jane Brown Grimes; Lindsay Davenport; John Barrett; and Chantal Vandierendonck. Photo credit Kate Whitney Lucey

Barrett’s career straddled pre- and post-Open Era tennis. Reporting and writing about sport were different for John. “Deadlines now are very difficult to meet,” he said when asked about the move from print to Internet. “You have demands for Internet pieces, which are endless. You could work all day and all night, if you had the stamina.” 

In the end, Barrett acknowledged that the change has been a healthy one, “because it’s disseminated the news of the sport, all sport, not just tennis, far and wide in a way that could never have been done with just print.”

All five inductees displayed almost intuitive characteristics of diplomacy and tolerance, which probably were learned throughout their careers. Bollettieri was certain he ticked people off, and asked for a raise of hands from all those people he had yelled at on court or off. There were many and were happy to be appreciated. 

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John Barrett was described by tennis journalist Steve Flink as a ‘master communicator.’ Barrett will also be remembered as ‘the voice of Wimbledon,’ for his years broadcasting for the BBC. Photo credit Kate Whitney Lucey

Jane Brown Grimes, on the other hand, could have been destined for greatness given her gracious manner and attitude. She began in tennis 40 years ago. She mentioned how political the sport has become and the numerous entities that must be heard. “There are a lot of land mines, a lot of things you have to negotiate."

She told journalists that her career has flown by, and that, “Frankly, working in the sport has been enough of a reward. The thought of getting in the Tennis Hall of Fame had never been on the radar.”

Chris Evert introduced her friend Grimes, during the induction. “She has served tennis on every level. No other person has ever run three major organizations in tennis. 

Grimes has been president and chairwoman of the board of the USTA, managing director of the Women’s Tennis Council, and president and CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She was instrumental in rebuilding this facility, which was slated to be torn down in 1977. Currently she is pursuing her Masters degree in international relations at Cambridge University. Her thesis concentrates on the global impact of tennis.

Few comments described Lindsay Davenport’s game more than, ‘a clean striker of the ball.’ She helped usher in power tennis and, as Mary Carillo has said, ‘big babe tennis.’ Davenport is reportedly the tallest player ever to have won Wimbledon. 

Lindsay couldn’t take the phone call from Christopher Clouser when contacted about her nomination. Husband John Leach answered instead, telling Clouser, “Lindsay’s having a baby. Can she call you back?” The couple has four children.

Davenport played tennis because she immediately fell in love with it. She persevered because it came naturally and she craved that clear sound as the ball struck string. “That’s what made it so fun for me. The sound of the ball.”

After ending the year at number one four times, winning 3 major singles titles, 3 major doubles titles, an Olympic Gold Medal, 3 Fed Cups, 55 singles titles, and 38 doubles titles, Davenport has transitioned to broadcasting for Tennis Channel. She was expecting her second child when it called her, advancing the proposition of her becoming a commentator. 

“In the beginning I felt I knew the players because I played against them,” Davenport said. “Now I have to take it from more of a student side where I have to try and learn these players' games, not for myself and how I would beat them, but what their general strengths and weaknesses are and apply them to who they’re playing.”

The International Tennis Hall of Fame celebrates its diamond jubilee this year. Sixty years of history. But the cracks in the sport are apparent, although equal pay has been achieved. Wheelchair tennis is one aspect that does not get enough attention, although its growth is recognized. When Chantal Vandierendonck became a paraplegic at 18, she thought her tennis dreams had vanished. But soon an uncle told her about wheelchair tennis in France. Chantal hesitated, but checked it out her curiosity and love of the sport getting the better of her altered world view.  

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Chantal Vandierendonck became the first woman wheelchair champion and Dutch player recognized for her contributions and achievements in tennis. 

Her father, who had taught her to play tennis at an early age, then developed The Dutch Wheelchair Open, where Chantal competed against men. “There were not enough women.”

Sparky Mary Carillo introduced Nick Bollettieri. She had two minutes to encapsulate his 63 years of tennis. She was passionate and clearly Nick’s advocate. Although he has been married eight times, Mary let everyone know that tennis was Nick’s love for ever after. And that he believes in his students, his team and your team, and that motivating others is his life work. 

The parade of champions, which began today’s induction, made one thing very clear. These five inductees are for the people, as were the other tennis ambassadors marching by. “There’s Monica,” one man yelled as he recognized Monica Seles. Then another cried out, “And Rosie,” as Rosie Casals strolled by. Fans recognized names and occasions mentioned in speeches, too, as much as avid baseball fans would know stats of a favorite team and its players. 

“This is not a Nick Bollettieri award,” he started, then stopped when tears filled his eyes. “This award belongs to all the people.”

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013