BY SHAMANTH RAO
The rhythmic thwacks of tennis balls hit by wooden rackets resounded once again across the grass courts at the West Side Tennis Club on a recent Saturday morning amid the rumble of the occasional passing Long Island Railroad train.
Some 35 years after the U.S. Open ended its six-decade run at the fabled Forest Hills tennis haven, players took to the courts on August 18 for the first edition of the Evian Wood Racquet Cup. The event, which came just over a week before the start of the U.S. Open in Flushing, marked part of an effort to revive tennis at the historic venue with everything from new tournaments to lessons for children.
“This event is a great way to remember the past in a relaxed and fun way,” said Jason Zone Fisher, who was master of ceremonies for the Evian Cup.
The member-owned West Side Tennis Club is a long way from its heyday, which ended with the United State Tennis Association’s decision to move the Open to a more modern facility in Flushing Meadows in 1978, a year after Guillermo Vilas and Chris Evert won the event. The Club stayed alive by hosting the Tournament of Champions in the 1980s, and subsequently housing smaller tournaments.
In recent years, financial issues – including upkeep of the near-century-old complex – forced Club leaders to explore selling the property. A $10 million deal to sell to condo developer Cord Meyer was rejected by members in 2010, much to the relief of many tennis fans.
In May 2011, the Landmark Preservation Commission rejected a bid to landmark the complex’s 15,000-seat tennis stadium “due to the deteriorated state of the building’s architectural features.”
Bob Ingersole, tennis director of the West Side Tennis Club, said the Club’s finances have “gone from poor to improving to stable.”
“We are now in the black,” he said, declining to offer more details or discuss other sale possibilities.
The Club has worked to increase its member base, Ingersole said, attracting more than 100 new members in recent months and bringing in more tournaments. In late August, the club held the Nesquik “Little Mo” International Open for kids, an event that featured appearances by Max Mirnyi and the Bryan brothers.
While it’s trying to keep up with the times, the West Side Tennis Club still feels right out of a past age. Colorful parasols, white chairs, fading photographs and polished name boards stand amid meticulously trimmed grass courts.
Bitsy Metcalf, who grew up learning tennis in New Orleans and wants to start playing regularly again, enjoyed the wood racquet retro-themed Evian Cup.
“I’d love to come back,” said Metcalf, 29.