Owned by the West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills Stadium has enjoyed a recent renaissance thanks to a slate of live music performances by the likes of Paul Simon, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan and The Who that’s returned this Queens venue back to its vaunted stature as a legendary arena.
Seeing as the stadium’s initial and primary focus was as a stage for tennis (the U.S. Open was played here until 1978, when it moved to Flushing Meadows), this piece of history is being resurrected as World Team Tennis (WTT) is returning for the month of August. Save for a 2008 U.S. Open women’s satellite tournament, this will be the first time professional tennis will be returning to Forest Hills in nearly four decades.
The stadium’s usual 14,000-seat capacity will be reconfigured to accommodate 2,500 fans, who’ll be watching the New York Empire play its home matches throughout the month of August. Madison House Presents music promoter/booking agent Mike Luba, who got things back on track by bringing in national acts along with general manager Jon McMillan, is a lifelong lover of the game and hopes to capture the attention of people gearing up for the U.S Open over at nearby Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
“Professional tennis is coming back to Forest Hills for the first time in a long time. It’s world team tennis. Patrick McEnroe is the coach and Andy Roddick is the captain,” he explained. “Over the course of two weeks, they’re going to play six matches here, and then the actual finals for the whole league will be held here on Aug. 27. It’s a little more of a work in progress, but it’s tons of fun and everyone is hopeful that people will come out to see some great tennis.”
Sponsored by pharmaceutical company Mylan, WTT has been around since 1974 and despite its relatively low profile, it made its mark on pop culture thanks to the 1975 Elton John smash “Philadelphia Freedom,” which he penned for his friend Billie Jean King, who was then part of the WTT franchise of the same name. Over time, league cofounder King was one of numerous famous names from the world of tennis that have participated in the league and include Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, the Williams sisters, the McEnroe brothers, Chris Evert and Pete Sampras. It’s a legacy that brings back great memories to current Empire captain Andy Roddick when he’s asked about the first time WTT crossed his radar.
“I went to a match at McFarland Tennis Center in San Antonio, TX. I watched Jimmy Connors play Sammy Giammalva and I think it was 1991. It was just before my ninth birthday. It was awesome to be that age and to be close to people that you looked up to. I got an autograph from Jimmy,” he recalled. “I was able to go to the U.S. Open when he made his run and I couldn’t get near him. But with World Team Tennis, I was able to go up to him, get an autograph and have a conversation. I was a huge fan of the proximity it afforded me and I was able to get that at such a young age. That was probably the first impression World Team Tennis made on me.”
The way this season will shape up is that the Empire is one of six teams, alongside the Orange County Breakers, Philadelphia Freedoms, San Diego Aviators, Springfield Lasers and Washington Kasties. There are two men and two women to a team and five sets of tennis are played each night—one set each of men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles. Whichever team wins the most games at the end of the five sets wins the match. The season runs from July 31 through Aug. 13 and the top two teams will advance to the Mylan WTT Finals, which will be held at Forest Hills Stadium on Aug. 27.
There will be pre-match activities, contests on-court and children 16 and younger will have the opportunity to come on the court at the end of each match to get autographs from the players. All of this is something Empire Coach Patrick McEnroe is clearly thrilled about when it comes to making tennis relevant again in Forest Hills.
“It’s incredible when you think about the history there,” he said. “I’m so happy that the club and these concert promoters have resurrected the stadium. I think that this is another great step for the club and for the history to get some real professional tennis there.”