NEWPORT – Before the final matches of the 38th Hall of Fame Tennis Championships got under way on Sunday, several of the greatest individuals ever to play the game took the court and entertained the crowd with two doubles exhibition matches.
The men’s exhibition was highlighted by an appearance from Australian Owen Davidson, winner of 12 Grand Slam titles during the 1960s and ’70s. He was joined on the court by former pros Jimmy Arias, Brian Gottfried and Todd Martin.
A 14-year veteran of the ATP World Tour, Martin has taken part in several exhibitions at the Newport Casino over the years. This year, the 44-year-old also holds the title of CEO-designate of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. He will succeed Mark Stenning, who is stepping down in September after 35 years with the Hall of Fame, the last 14 as its CEO.
“It’s really important that we embrace and celebrate these legends of the game on a frequent basis,” said Martin, “and this is the best stage to do that on.”
After the lighthearted match between the men, it was the women’s turn, as Rhode Island native and former pro Jill Craybas took Center Court with Hall of Famers Monica Seles, Tracy Austin and Gigi Fernandez.
A 2009 Hall of Fame inductee, Seles captured nine Grand Slam titles in the early 1990s, as well as the 2000 Olympic bronze medal in Sydney, Australia.
Considered one of the greatest doubles players of all time, Fernandez, who was inducted into the ITHF in the same year as Davidson, won at least one Grand Slam title every year except one from 1988 to 1997, finishing her career with 17 major doubles titles.
Quickly gaining acclaim in the 1970s when she beat Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova as a wide-eyed teenager from California, Austin won a pair of U.S. Open titles, the first in 1979 at the age of 16, and earned a No. 1 world ranking before her tennis career was cut short by injuries. In 1992, at the age of 30, she became the youngest player ever to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
“This is the second exhibition I’ve done (since retiring), and it’s been awesome,” said Craybas, who enjoyed a 17-year career on the women’s professional tour. “Tracy, Gigi and Monica were just fantastic. I’m honored to be on the court with these Hall of Famers.”
Now that Craybas makes her home in Southern California, she doesn’t have many opportunities to come back to Rhode Island. “That’s why I was so happy to come back,” said the East Greenwich native, who was greeted by fans seeking her autograph after the exhibition. “I’m seeing a lot of faces I haven’t seen in so long. People coming up to me that I haven’t seen since high school really.”