By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com & Todd Piker, Cornwall CTA
When Rafael Nadal dispatched Novak Djokovic in the men's final, it was the conclusion of what was a wildly exciting 2010 US Open, not just for the players but also for the fans that flocked to Flushing Meadows from all across the United States over the course of 15 action-packed days.
Yet, for certain attendees, such as those who are actively involved with tennis year-round in their hometowns as part of a Community Tennis Association (CTA), the pilgrimage to the epicenter of American tennis took on a deeper meaning. As part of USTA.com's recap of the 2010 Open, we will highlight some of the journeys made by these volunteer groups from different parts of the country. In the coming days, five CTAs will tell their stories of travel, tennis and triumph within their communities.
Classified as "any incorporated, geographically defined, not-for-profit, volunteer-based organization that supports or provides programs which promote and develop the growth of tennis," the five CTAs that made it to New York City are but a sampling of over 1,000 CTAs accounted for under the umbrella of the USTA's 17 sections. The associations work primarily at the grassroots level to coordinate and maintain tennis programs and services, guaranteeing that they are open and accessible to all.
Being at the US Open was not only a chance to take in a world-class Grand Slam tournament but also to spread the word about what progress is being made at the local level to preserve the game now being played by over 30 million people nationwide.
"We're extremely pleased that for the first time ever we can utilize the national platform provided by the US Open to recognize the Community Tennis Associations around the nation that are in attendance," said David Slade, USTA National Manager for CTAs. "The US Open and the USTA's family of websites provide a great opportunity to increase awareness amongst tennis fans - many of whom attend the Open themselves - about the programs and services being offered by organizations around the country."
Today, we hear about Todd Piker's memories of US Opens past and present. Piker, Founder & President of the Cornwall CTA, attended the 2010 version with his wife, Ivelisse. A tennis lifer and player since childhood, Piker got into building up community programs many years ago after repurposing a series of abandoned clay courts from a shut-down school in rural New England. From there to here, Piker tells his story:
I've been going to the US Open since before the "Open Era" began - back in the day of Forest Hills and amateurs-only, like Rod Laver, Clark Graebner, Stan Smith, Chuck McKinley and Ken Rosewall. Attending the matches was certainly one of the greatest thrills of my life as a youngster. I also played a lot of tennis and founded a CTA as an adult in my adopted hometown (I've been here over 35 years) of Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut.
This year's Open was particularly exciting. As usual, my wife and I had tickets for Day 1. When we were younger, we would buy grounds passes - we were so thrilled by the exceptional and plentiful tennis in the perimeter courts (Grandstand and Louis Armstrong Stadium included) that we didn't miss the occasional great match inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Now that we are older and have tired of the crush of crowds on the outer courts, the Ashe setting seems worth the extra expense. There is certainly a sense of privilege, particularly in the lower loge seats, and the relaxing setting in the fullness of the sun usually makes for an exhilarating and exhausting day. This year was no exception, and the icing on the cake was the invite from the National Office of the USTA to meet with David Slade and take a tour of the "war rooms" under Ashe stadium.
The tour was fascinating. We learned that there are a host of hierarchal admittance badges required to enter the realm of professional journalists, trainers, hitting partners and players. We were shown rarified settings, including the media section - full of computer cubicles, in/out boxes for press releases, counter reception for scheduling interviews, and finally - the "piece de resistance" - the television interview room. Like a theater, the room when empty had an eerie sound to me. I could swear I was hearing the sobs of the early vanquished and the bravado of the most recently successful as a quiet drone in the muffled silence.
I was so excited about a photo op that I accidentally threw my phone across the dais into the back wall as I was getting ready to snap a picture. Fortunately, David understood my excitement and made light of my seemingly moronic mistake. As my wife likes to say, "You can't take him anywhere!"
This tour was at the end of the day. We'd seen Clijsters and Roddick, and watched Dementieva and Gasquet. As usual, we kept crossing paths with Nick Bollettieri and his entourage as they scouted with furtive glee their up and coming prospects. I remember a number of years ago watching as his newest prospect, a 19-year-old Max Mirnyi, hit monster serves on Court 19. His career is almost over now, but Bollettieri - like Bud Collins - is like the tennis Energizer Bunny. As long as there are dreamers, there will be a way for Nick to work the beat.
The extra icing on the cake was a 30th anniversary present from our two daughters: Tickets to the women's final on the final weekend of the tournament. We arrived at about 6:00 p.m. and entered the grounds. My wife and I were instantly swept up by the Jumbotron and the fifth set of the Djokevic/Federer semifinal. As we watched and waited to get into Arthur Ashe Stadium, the match reached an epic point where Federer squandered a double-match point opportunity, only to go down to a feisty and resilient Djokovic. Sadly, a Nadal/Federer "match for the ages" at the US Open may never happen. Stay tuned!
The women's final was a bit anticlimactic after the battle of the Swiss and Serbian warriors. Ms. Zvonareva simply couldn't find the firepower to withstand the extraordinary onslaught of Kim Clijsters. The match was over in under and hour, giving Kim too much time to reminisce and thank her many friends and family for helping her reach the pinnacle again this year. Yet it brought home to me the great lesson of tennis: No one does it alone. It takes a village to groom a player and a global village to develop talents such as Nadal, Federer, Clijsters, Roddick, Blake et cetera. I'm proud to be playing a small part in the epic journey of bringing tennis to the masses.
Over the years I have coached a number of teams. Twice, my 18U Intermediate team won the New England Sectionals. Last year my 14U Intermediates placed 3rd at the Sectionals after winning states. In 2010, our CTA founded the Litchfield County 18I League, and we began a QuickStart afterschool program in the local K-8 school. We're proud to say that we have also hosted a Cardio Tennis program this year, after attending a training workshop in Rhode Island. In addition, our CTA runs a discount week in late June that provides lessons at $5 per student for a week. Many of these kids have never played before and when bitten by the tennis bug continue to play in one of the many clinics we offer throughout the summer.
Many thanks to the USTA for helping me every step of the way. I look forward to many years of Tennis at the US Open and continued excitement here in Cornwall pushing the perimeter to develop tennis opportunities in Litchfield County. Although we are a small town, we have proportionally an enormous tennis enthusiasm. Every summer there are literally hundreds of people involved in one way or another playing and teaching the game.