by Jack Cunniff
(July 13, 2013) NEWPORT, R.I. – While Martina Hingis headlined the International Tennis Hall of Fame ceremonies as 2013 Recent Player inductee, the event had the decided feel of an Old Boys club, with contemporaries Cliff Drysdale, Ion Tiriac, and Charlie Pasarell sharing the stage as inductees in the Contributor category.
The most decorated of the newest members was actually Thelma Coyne Long, inducted in the Master Player category. Playing from 1935-1958, Coyne Long amassed 20 titles at Grand Slam events while playing from 1935 – 1958, including 19 in her native Australia. Her best discipline was Women’s Doubles, in which she won 13 Women’s Doubles titles. Coyne Long, 94, lives in Australia and couldn’t travel to Newport, RI for the induction, so countryman Rod Laver accepted on her behalf. Laver shared Coyne Long’s accomplishments, not just as a tennis champion, but as a World War II hero. She was awarded an Australian War Medal in recognition of her service in the Red Cross and Australian Women’s Army.
While Laver himself wasn’t being inducted – that event occurred over 30 years ago, in 1981 – he was frequently mentioned by the other honorees. There was a great brotherhood displayed by the 2013 class, as they shared stories of each other. It was obvious that these individuals and their contributions helped to grow the sport, and Hingis’ closing comments would reveal why those contributions make a difference beyond sport.
Ion Tiriac, a former Top Ten player from Romania, was the next inducted, presented by Senator George Mitchell. While a fine player in his era, Tiriac’s induction was the result of his broad contributions to the sport: as a coach, manager, promoter, and tournament director. In his comments, Tiriac reminisced about a five set French Open loss to Laver, and three Davis Cup losses to Stan Smith, who was in attendance as a member and President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Tiriac, who won the 1970 French Open Men’s Doubles with fellow Romanian Ilie Nastase, noted that today’s players make millions of dollars, but “they’re never going to have the ties that we had,” acknowledging the close friendships cultivated with his former competitors.
Cliff Drysdale, like Tiriac, was an accomplished player who has become better known for his other contributions to tennis. Drysdale was presented by his son, Greg, who marveled at his father’s 34-year career in tennis broadcasting. In fact, “Cliffie” was part of ESPN’s first tennis broadcasts back in 1979. Drysdale, born in South Africa but now a U.S. citizen, spoke fondly of his generation of players as well. He shared his memories of the locker room emptying out to watch Laver hit topspin backhands, and Pasarell’s “cockamamie” dreams of forming the Association of Tennis Professionals. Cliff also thanked his ESPN colleagues in attendance: Patrick McEnroe, Chris Folwer, Chris McKendrick, and Pam Shriver.
The third Contributor inducted was Charlie Pasarell. Pasarell was the top-ranked American player in 1967, but beyond his on-court accomplishments, he co-founded the National Junior Tennis League and was tournament director in Indian Wells. Pasarell was a former UCLA teammate and roommate of the late Arthur Ashe, and it was Arthur’s wife Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe who presented Charlie. The rain showers that briefly interrupted the ceremonies were “tears of joy” from Arthur for his good friend’s achievement. The breadth of Pasarell’s accomplishments in tennis was evident by the long and varied list of people he thanked in his comments.
While the most recent Contributor members of the Hall of Fame shared memories of their generation, the Recent Player inductee, Martina Hingis, is from a different age. Only 32-years old, Hingis is one of the youngest Tennis Hall of Fame inductees. In her era, Hingis didn’t face the challenge of growing tennis as a professional sport. Instead, the international scope of tennis provided Hingis an opportunity to escape from behind the Iron Curtain. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1980, Hingis’ mother and coach, Melanie Molitor, saw tennis as a means for relocation and greater opportunity in Switzerland. Hingis, was named for the legendary player Martina Navratilova, and she noted that the original Martina was not just a great player but also a symbol of freedom, having defected from Czechoslovakia in 1975. Hingis’ tennis accomplishments are vast. Fifteen titles in Grand Slam events, including five singles titles and a calendar year Grand Slam in Women’s Doubles in 1998. Over 200 weeks spend as the top ranked woman in the world. Eighty-one total titles in her career, including 43 singles titles. But Hinigs didn’t focus on those achievements in her comments. Instead she explained that the sport, grown through the dedication of her 2013 Hall of Fame inductees, gave her freedom and a better life.