Help is on the way for tennis' forgotten champions
Doris Hart has never been invited back to the U.S. Open. Not a single time. Not even for the 60th anniversary of her title sweep this year. And Vic Seixas, a Hall of Famer himself, is appalled at how little the USTA and the ATP Tour do for the pioneers of the sport.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Tuesday, September 2, 2014, 11:02 PM
By Wayne Coffey
You may have never heard of Doris Hart. It is time you did. She is 89 years old and blind and one of the great tennis champions in the history of the United States, a former world No. 1 and a Hall of Famer. She won the singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles at the U.S. National Championships — the Open before prize money — in 1954. She won 35 Grand Slam titles in all.
She is one of only three women to win singles, doubles and mixed doubles at all four majors, capturing 11 of her titles at the U.S. Nationals. And she has never been invited back to the U.S. Open. Not a single time. Not even for the 60th anniversary of her title sweep this year. Forget airfare and a hotel room. Doris Hart, who is not difficult to find, has never even been offered a grounds pass.
She lives in Coral Gables, Fla., in failing health, and feels completely forgotten by the U.S. Tennis Association. Can you blame her?
“I think it’s terrible,” Hart said Tuesday afternoon by phone. “They forget everything we did. They do nothing.”
Wimbledon invites her back all the time, she said, offering first-class travel, a hotel suite and a place in the Royal Box. In her own country? Hart laughed and told about the time she was soaking in a tub in the West Side Tennis Club locker room in Forest Hills after winning the singles title one year, and asked an attendant for a Coke.
“She brought me the Coke, and a bill,” Hart said.
Vic Seixas, a Hall of Famer himself, was Hart’s doubles partner in 1954, winning the trifecta (singles, doubles and mixed), too. Seixas was welcomed back this year for a 60th celebration, and will be part of the Open’s “Final 8” club dinner Wednesday night in the President’s Suite, open to all competitors who have ever made it to an Open quarterfinal.
“They have so much money they don’t know what to do with it,” Seixas said of the USTA. “It’s not a question of money. It’s a question about not caring about what happened before the Open era.”
Seixas is 91, and has played in more U.S. championships (28) than anyone, including 24 straight (1946-69). He, too, is a former world No. 1, with 15 major titles, and like all of his fellow amateurs, made no money from the sport. He worked in his father’s plumbing supply business on the side, and later as a stockbroker, and late into his 70s near his home in Mill Valley, Calif. He still worked two bartending jobs to supplement his fixed income.
Seixas said he is glad to be back, but appalled at how little the USTA and the ATP Tour do for the pioneers of the sport. Football has its Gridiron Greats program to help former players who are in need. Baseball and basketball have programs in place, too. (The ATP has a benefits program that started in 1990, but doesn’t provide for players whose careers were over before 1968.)
“I just think tennis is the only sport that’s done nothing to help former players,” Seixas said. “I’m not complaining about myself. I don’t have too many years left, but there are lot of players who played before the Open era who could use help. You think with all the money in the sport that they would’ve done something a long time ago, but I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.”
Hart has her doubts, too.
“You think the players of today would give us something? Are you kidding? You think the USTA would (help with benefits) when they don’t even invite me to the tournament?”
A man named Tim McArthur wants to help. McArthur, 35, of Oakdale, L.I., is a guest-services attendant in the President’s Suite, and founder of a charitable foundation called Fund Rounders, which has a mission of “actualizing altruism in America and abroad through cost effective and meaningful fund-raising campaigns.”
McArthur, in essence, wants to devote his life to supporting noble, life-affirming causes, and having become friends with Seixas, aims to start fund-raising to support tennis champions of yesteryear.
“In this day and age, when there are so many resources out there, it doesn’t make any sense not to have programs in place (to assist former players),” McArthur said. “People at the top of the sport are trying to grow the game. How can you not want to honor and be sure to take care of the legends of the game?”
McArthur is completely right, of course. Somebody needs to pitch in, starting with the tours, and the USTA, which is spending $50 million on a new player-developmental center outside Orlando, and some $550 million on a wholesale makeover of the National Tennis Center, including an Arthur Ashe Stadium roof. Why not throw a little seed money to a pre-Open era players’ fund? And send Doris Hart an invitation next year while you’re at it.
Chris Widmaier, chief USTA spokesman, said the organization wasn’t aware that Doris Hart has never been invited back.
“We always want to honor our former champions — especially a champion of Doris Hart’s stature,” Widmaier said. “We certainly intended no disrespect. This clearly was an oversight on our part, and we’re going to make things right.”