Heritage Day at West Side honors tennis legends

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The third annual “Heritage Day” at the West Side Tennis Club commemorated the club’s 127th anniversary and its pivotal role in the sport’s development, as well as honored several tennis legends.

“This is the occasion that best represents the WSTC and the history that we have,” said WSTC president Bruce Eaton. “For a while we lost some nostalgia that this wonderful club has, and each year with this event we’re getting closer to rebuilding the acknowledgment and understanding of the role that this club had in U.S. tennis.”

On August 25, some of the club’s 900-plus members and guests watched as a banner recognizing Rod Laver and the 50th anniversary of his second Grand Slam in 1969 was unveiled, as well as another honoring Rene Lacoste’s legacy in the sport.

“My favorite memory of Rod Laver was when he won his second Grand Slam and his backhand was out of this world,” said James Frangos, past WSTC president. “The club has such a storied presence in the history of the U.S. Open.”

Nicknamed Rocket, Rod Laver is considered one of the greatest players to win in Forest Hills.

“It is just unbelievable what you have all done here,” Lavar, who represented Australia in his first David Cup at the Stadium, told attendees. “It was a thrill to represent my country. The WSTC has lots of memories.”

Nick Bollettieri, a well-known tennis coach for 60 years, developed legends including Andre Agassi and Mary Pierce. He also pioneered the world’s most famous tennis academy and changed how the game is played and taught.

“There are no words or expressions that can do Rod Laver the justice of what he has done,” he said. “Yes he won titles, but was a gentleman and respected the sport. That makes him a double champion.”

Mark Woodforde is an inductee in both the International and Australian Tennis Hall of Fame.

“It’s a thrill for me to be here,” he said. “Rod Laver is an icon, sports hero, and champion.”

Lacoste’s constant engineering led to 40 patents, among them a steel tennis racquet and tennis ball machine.

“My grandfather, who in addition to his seven Grand Slam titles brought the Davis Cup to France, and his inventions changed the world of tennis and revolutionized the clothing industry forever,” said Beryl Lacoste, before praising Laver and her grandfather for their devotion to the game.

“While Mr. Laver was playing in a very turbulent era, the transition to the Open era, my grandfather was finding new ways to make the sport more comfortable, practical, and accessible while keeping it elegant.”

Elizabeth Kobak won the USTA National women’s 30s grass court championships in singles at WSTC, followed by a triple crown victory in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles at the USTA national grass court Open division tournament at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. WSTC has been part of her life since age three.

“Being a member is my connection to New York City’s rich tennis history, and Heritage Day embodies what it means to celebrate all of the greatness achieved on these courts,” she said.

“When I walk through the gates, I feel a tingle,” said Chris Dukas, who joined the club with his wife around ten years ago. “I wanted to support and be a part of what we feel is the heart and soul of Forest Hills. There are so many new friends I would not have met otherwise.”

“I would come to this place and be in awe,” said Ken Solomon, CEO of The Tennis Channel. “This is not only a stage where the world has witnessed history, much made by Rod, but it’s also a club and a place where life really happens. I would watch as a kid with wondrous eyes.

“Every other sport generally has a league or two, but tennis is universal,” he added. “It is owned around the world by people like you at clubs.”

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