Roger Federer, considered by many the best tennis player in history, told me the other day the 10 reasons why he likes tennis. And he will tell you as well, if you visit the renovated museum at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport.
Federer stars in an eight-minute hologram, one of the technological highlights of the three-year, $3-million project. The Hall of Fame is the first sports museum in the U.S. to employ the technology, according to Doug Stark, the museum’s director.
“The consensus was we wanted to use a current player and an international player,” Stark said during a sneak preview on Wednesday. A ribbon-cutting and grand re-opening are scheduled for May 20 at 11:30 a.m.
Federer agreed, and Stark and a production crew spent three hours with him at his home in Dubai in mid-February. He bounces a ball, demonstrates his championships strokes and talks tennis as if he were a few feet away. Cool stuff, indeed!
If you visited the museum before it closed for renovations December 1, the only room you will recognize upon climbing the carpeted staircase to the second floor of the Newport Casino is the Enshrinees Room. And even that space has been tweaked with plaques of contributors, such as media and officials, grouped together on a wall and plaques of the players in the Hall of Fame re-arranged by era.
After that, it’s a whole new experience. The museum was gutted and rebuilt to tell the story of tennis in a more cohesive fashion. Exhibits are arranged in three periods: Birth of Tennis from 1874 to 1918, Popular Game from 1918 to 1968, and Open Era from 1968 to the present. Design elements and color schemes are unique to each period.
Birth of Tennis features prominent racquet displays, other racquet sports such as court tennis and an illustrated history of the Newport Casino itself. The Popular Game highlights tennis from the 1920s to the 1950s and includes displays on the Davis Cup, Wightman Cup, Harry Hopman, the Olympics, the first pro tour in 1926 and VASSS, the Van Alen Simplified Scoring System promoted by James H. Van Alen, founder of the Tennis Hall of Fame. There are also displays of racquets, balls, games and tennis-related products of the period. The men’s ATP Tour and the women’s WTA Tour highlight the Open Era. The Federer hologram is a must-see along with a wall-sized display case of about 180 cans of tennis balls from the Ira Schwartz Collection. The Riseley 12 Ball Can from F.A. Davis Ltd in Great Britain dates to 1914.
Galleries for global tennis, the Grand Slams and the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships complete the museum.
Hands-on exhibits should be popular. Visitors will be able to call the point of a match and email the recording to themselves. They will be able to play a tennis trivia game on a five-foot electronic table. And they will be able to open drawers containing tennis artifacts from bubble gum and trading cards to jewelry and trinkets.
Workers are hustling to put the finishing touches on the museum for its opening. Stark said 1,900 items from the museum’s permanent collection will be on display, 700 more than in the old space.
“There’s something for everyone, not just tennis players,” he said. “There’s fashion, art, decorative arts, racquets, interactive games. Hopefully people who see it will want to go out and play tennis.”
Visitors spent an average of 45 minutes in the old museum. Stark expects them to spend 90 minutes in the new space. “We did not expand, but we maximized the existing square footage,” he said.
Admission will be $15, an increase of $2. Children under 16 will be admitted free. Audio tours in 11 languages, recorded by Hall of Famers whenever possible, will be available eventually.
Elsewhere on the Newport Casino grounds, the new indoor tennis facility is open for play, and work on the building that will house locker rooms, lounges, offices and shops is moving along.