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Dropping by Forest Hills
Posted: Thursday September 09, 1999 05:27 PM
By Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated
But ever since 1978, when the U.S. Open waved adieu to Forest Hills and moved to Flushing, the stadium has fallen into a worsening state of disrepair. Cracks in the concrete abound; telephone booths on the premises contain no phones; bone-dry water fountains are chipped; the neighbors complain that the vacant, careworn stadium is home to a burgeoning rodent population. Now, the club's 400 voting members are deciding whether to raze the vacant stadium and sell the 3.6 acres to a development group. "There's a lot history here," says club manager Vicki Tushingham. "But the reality is, we don't use it a lot."
Tearing down the Forest Hills stadium isn't the same as taking the wrecking ball to Wimbledon's Centre Court or uprooting Augusta National, but it nevertheless strikes a nostalgic chord with many. Before this year's U.S. Open, a number of Australian old-timers -- Ken Rosewall, Tony Roche and John Newcombe -- converged on Forest Hills and asked club president William Maloney if they could play on the stadium court, the site of some their greatest triumphs, for one last time. Maloney complied. "Sitting there and watching the sun go down behind the stadium, you'll never see another sight like that in tennis," says Billie Jean King.
It was the almighty dollar that precipitated the Open's move to more commodious quarters. Quaint as Forest Hills may have been, it's cramped grounds, paucity of parking, and location in a residential neighborhood could hardly accommodate an event that was looking to attract television coverage and grow exponentially. Strolling the grounds of the National Tennis Center, where commercialism strafes by at every angle, it's inconceivable this growth -- for better or worse -- could ever have been attained at Forest Hills. "You can't have it both ways," concedes Tushingham. "If you want big prize money and big television coverage you can't have intimacy."
She's right, of course. But one wishes the pendulum hadn't swung so far in the other direction. This year's U.S. Open is expected to net some $130 million, but wouldn't it be nice to trade some of that for a trace of the Forest Hills ambiance, where members used to escort players to their courts and fans would cluster on the streets outside for autographs? "When you look at it, it's hard to imagine that it worked at all because it was so small over there," says Stan Smith, who won the U.S. Open in 1971. "But I always tell people that I can say I won at Forest Hills. When you say you won at Flushing, it doesn't have the same ring."
Contrast the reaction of two ex-pat North Americans, Mary Pierce and Greg Rusedski after they both lost heartbreaking matches in the final set. First Rusedski, who fell to Todd Martin after serving for the match at 5-3 in the third set: "Todd didn't win that match. I lost it." Now Pierce, who squandered two match points against defending champion Lindsay Davenport: "You have to give her credit for playing like the champion she is." ... Speaking of Davenport, she was unhinged when her doubles partner, Corina Morariu, blacked out after their quarterfinal loss to Sandrine Testud and Chanda Rubin. Morariu underwent a CAT-scan yesterday and all tests came back negative. Irony of ironies, Morariu's father was the late Tim Gullikson's doctor. ... Why has surprise quarterfinalist Slava Dosedel stenciled a smiley face on his racket? "I'm always looking at my strings. I try to be positive in life, so when I look at my racket, it puts me in a better mood." ... Dosedel, incidentally, is a fledgling actor as well as an upset-minded tennis player. His debut film, Life Water opens on Oct. 3 in his native Czech Republic. He portrays a holistic doctor, a fitting role given that Dosedel, one of the tour's bona fide flakes, has been a practicing vegetarian for seven years. ... From the There-Have-to-Be-Better-Endorsements Dept.: In his match Thursday against Gustavo Kuerten, Cedric Pioline's wristwatch fell off mid-point.
Jon Wertheim is a Sports Illustrated staff
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