On July 31, the newly established New York Empire, a franchise of Mylan World TeamTennis (WTT), played its inaugural event at the stadium, which is hosting 2,500 spectators for six matches through August 13.
On a freshly painted multi-colored court, the Empire competed against the Washington Kastles, eventually losing 22 to 15 after Madison Brengle took the women’s singles 5 to 2.
The Empire team includes head coach Patrick McEnroe, who played six seasons of Mylan WTT and has memories of playing junior tennis at the West Side Tennis Club; marquee player Andy Roddick, a former U.S. Open champion who is playing WTT’s 9th season; and Christina McHale, who is playing her first full season of Mylan WTT for the NY Empire.
On opening night, McEnroe was fulfilling obligations at the Rogers Cup and was temporarily replaced by Katrina Adams, the USTA president who is the first African American and first former professional tennis player to hold the position.
A ceremony prior to the matches featured former mayor David Dinkins and former professional tennis players Virginia Wade and Billie Jean King, who honored the stadium’s role in American history.
Designed in 1923 by Kenneth Murchison as America’s first concrete stadium, it would become the birthplace of the U.S. Open. The final U.S. Open was played on site in 1977, and after its relocation to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, skepticism grew over the hallowed ground’s future.
Dire predictions almost came true in 2010, when a plan to sell and demolish the stadium for a condo surfaced, but the West Side Tennis Club rejected the bid.
“We were all disappointed when the U.S. Open left Forest Hills,” said Wade, the sole British player to win all four Grand Slam titles. “It was so nostalgic here.”
WSTC tennis director Bob Ingersole has been instrumental in revitalizing pro tennis in Forest Hills.
“I have been negotiating with WTT for at least nine months,” he said. “We are hoping to bring back more tennis events, which will make the neighborhood and the club flourish.”
“Anytime you can start off the inaugural season with names like Billie Jean King and Virginia Wade, who have so much history here, you can see how important it is to bring the stadium back,” added Jerry Milani, who handles public relations for the Empire.
After the inaugural event, children under 16 holding tennis balls made their way to center court and approached Kastles’ Grand Slam duo Leander Paes and Martina Hingis for autographs.
“The venue allows young tennis players who have heard about the glory days of tennis in the stadium to actually experience its charm and historic significance,” said Angela Martin president of the West Side Tennis Club.
Keeping in mind that the stadium was last used for major tennis events in the late 1990s, WSTC Foundation president Roland Meier felt the inaugural celebration represents a catalyst for further positive change built on rich traditions.
“The club got lost when we were no longer the center of the tennis universe,” he said. “Now we need to rediscover our tennis history and hope to become the blueprint of Queens once again.”
Upcoming highlights of the Empire season include Andy Roddick’s debut in Forest Hills on August 9, the Salute to Strong Women event on August 11, Queens’ International Night on August 12, and the Mylan WTT Finals on August 26, where the top two teams will compete for the King Trophy, named after Billie Jean King.