NEW YORK — The London 2012 Olympic tennis tournament might have ended last month with hometown hero Andy Murray slaying the great Roger Federer in the men’s gold-medal match, the Williams sisters winning the women’s doubles gold medal and a duo from Belarus winning mixed doubles, but the two extra weeks of Olympic tennis are alive and well at the US Open this week in New York.
In fact, the entire history of Olympic and Paralympic tennis is being relived at the US Open in a special exhibition put on by the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum. The exhibit, “Tennis and the Olympics,” outlines Olympic and Paralympic tennis from 1896 to the present with photos and a list of every Olympic and Paralympic medalist in history. Some more tennis history is being made this week as the wheelchair tennis competition at the Paralympic Games is on now in London.
“It so far has been very well received by the public,” said Doug Stark museum director for the Hall of Fame. “Tennis is one of the most international sports, and it’s a perfect fit for the Olympics, which is really showcasing the world. It’s a natural fit.”
The free exhibit for US Open attendees is open daily during the tournament (Aug. 27 – Sept. 9) and is in the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum Gallery at the US Open, located in the Chase Center alongside the US Open Bookstore.
Once the US Open is over, the Olympic exhibit will became part of the Hall of Fame’s traveling exhibit.
For the last 14 years, the Hall of Fame has created a different exhibit at the US Open that focuses on tennis topics not “properly covered” at the Hall of Fame’s permanent collection in Newport, R.I., Stark said.
But Stark said none of the previous exhibits have been as relevant as this one.
“I think people like that it’s current and very international,” Stark said. “This exhibit is certainly on par attendance wise and might be stronger (than others exhibits) in recent years because of that.
“I think because it’s so current, so international, it’s resonating.”
The Olympic exhibit drew about 8,000 people in its first four days, including the best opening day in the exhibit’s 14-year history with 1,900 people attending.
“I like history; I love the history of it,” Maryland resident Charles Brown, 67, said on his way out of the exhibit on the first Saturday of the US Open. “I watch everything about the Olympics. This year really having the Williams sisters there, it was great. Every fourth year it’s like the fifth Grand Slam, it’s great. I think the players have bought into it, the nationalism stuff is fun. I don’t think it’s overbearing. It’s fun.
“(The exhibit) was done in a very classy manor.”
The exhibit also appeals to novice tennis fans.
“I’m quite new to tennis, it’s good for me because now I know more,” Sabir Ahmedi of Princeton, N.J., said while checking out the exhibit. “The history, how it started and stuff, all that, which was the first Olympics, that (appealed to me).”
This 18-pannel exhibit features historic Olympic tennis moments, such as Steffi Graf winning the gold medal in 1988 to become the first and only player to date to win all four majors and the Olympic gold medal in one year.
“Each of the panels gives an overview of what happened, it has the medal winners at the bottom of each panel and photographs and art work tells the story,” Stark said. “We have Olympic posters for each year as the background for each panel beginning in 1992.”
The Seoul 1988 Olympic Games also marked the first time since 1924 that tennis was a medal sport. Tennis was a demonstration sport in 1968 and 1984. But the 1984 demonstration in Los Angeles drew more than 6,000 daily spectators, according to Stark, resulting in the sport being reinstated as a medal sport four years later.
“Paris and the IOC and the International Lawn and Tennis Federation could not see eye to eye,” Stark said when asked why tennis was excluded from the games after 1924. “They just couldn’t get along. … It was probably bureaucratic and possibly a misunderstanding. But it was not a full medal sport for another 64 years.”
The 2012 London Games marked the first time since 1924 that Olympic tennis featured mixed doubles. There were also eight tennis players who served as flag bearers for their respective countries during the Opening Ceremony in London.
“Tennis’ globalism was on display as eight flag bearers were tennis players,” Stark said. “Just to have eight flag bearers from the sport of tennis shows you how popular a sport it was (in London).”
The Olympic exhibit is situated adjacent to another exhibit featuring one of the most popular tennis players of all time. “Arthur Ashe as Amateur: 1966,” is a special photography collection of Ashe taken by Rowland Scherman. The LIFE magazine photographer shadowed Ashe during the height of the Civil Rights movement as the young tennis player traveled from Texas to Los Angeles.
The exhibit also has a panel featuring the 2012 Hall of Fame Inductees, including 1992 Olympic gold medalist Jennifer Capriati.
But the main attraction at the US Open is the live tennis, of course, which is why rain delays can be the Hall of Fame exhibit’s best friend.
“Attendance goes in spurts,” Stark said. “If there’s a great match outside obviously people will be watching the match. We usually get our fair share. Sometimes people come over at the beginning of the day or arrive early for the night session. It depended. Certainly if it rains we will get a lot of traffic.”
The exhibit was also a reprieve from the heat for Brown, his son-in-law and grandson on the first sweltering Saturday of the tournament last week.
“It’s also so hot out to be honest with you,” said Brown, a sports history buff who has attended 35 consecutive US Opens and is the athletic director at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “But I would say it’s a great value to never forget the history of tennis and any of the sports programs. And what comes around goes around. For a while (tennis) was big and then it disappeared from the Olympic scene.
“I think it is back, and I hope it is back to stay.”