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Cumming & Goings VI by Jim Cummings

August 7, 2006 09:53 PM

Two of America's greatest Ambassadors of Tennis will be making this year's US Open their swan song. Andre Agassi and Martina Navratilova have both said they will be retiring at the end of this year. Both have been a credit to themselves and the game of tennis; role models for the way our game should be approached and played.
 
Andre did not start out that way, but somewhere along the line he learned to control himself and his game. The rest is history. What I will always remember about him is his Zen-like coolness under pressure. When the chips were down, he never got too high, nor too low. There is something unsettling about playing an opponent who lets nothing bother him.

Andre has that quality in abundance. There is something else he has that we can all profit from; especially our present legalistic and blame the other guy society. In an article written by Sandra McKee of the Baltimore Sun, Andre is quoted as saying, "Sooner or later you have to accept accountability for your actions and your words, and the sooner you do that, the better off you are."  Andre Agassi is a role model alright, not just for tennis, but for every citizen of this world.
 
Martina Navratilova more than any other female player took women's tennis to another level. In my time as a national official, there was the elegance and grace of Margaret Court, the fluid athleticism of Evonne Goolagong, the feistiness and guts of Billie Jean King and the coolness and precision of Chris Evert. Each possessed personal qualities that made them winners. But it was Navratilova who left them all scrambling to catch up and she did it by becoming the strongest and fittest female player ever seen on a tennis court up to that time.
 
It wasn't always that way. Her first year at the US Open, she was just another woman player. I remember chairing a doubles match that year in which she played against Chris Evert. There was nothing remarkable about her or her game at that time. Then came the transformation a year or so later. Strength. Energy. Stamina. Force. Women's tennis was never the same after that. The rest of the pack had no choice but to follow.

The handwriting was on the wall - get with it or get left in the dust Martina's longevity has been phenomenal and her record places her in the top echelon of the all-time greats of women's tennis. One record I can't see being approached, let alone broken, in either women or men's tennis, is the 109 straight doubles matches she won with Pam Shriver that included two Grand Slams. What a run that was.
 
On the wall of my den is an action shot of Martina on center court at the US Open. I'm in the background on the right near sideline doing my job as a line umpire. A friend from St. Thomas Virgin Island had captured the moment and was nice enough to send me a copy of it. A year or so later, Martina autographed it for me at a tournament I was working in Washington, DC. Nowadays, for an official to get a player's autograph is a no-no, but things were a little looser back then. Of all the great players I have been on court with, it is the only autograph I have. It is a prized possession.
 
Billie Jean King
 
It is a fitting tribute to Billie Jean King that the USTA renamed its National Tennis Center the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. By the force of her will, she raised the second-hand status of women's tennis to the prominence it now enjoys. No one was better equipped to do so She had the prominence, she had the will and she had the feistiness and guts it took to get the job done. There's that word feisty again. How feisty was BJK? Let me tell you a story.
 
In 1974, Baltimore had its one and only entry in World Team Tennis (WTT), the Baltimore Banners. One night, the Banners were playing the Philadelphia Freedoms coached by no other than Billie Jean King. At the conclusion of the warm-up, one of the Baltimore players hit a ball he was holding when the warm-up ended. Billie Jean came storming up to me and demanded that the player be penalized for taking an extra warm-up shot. At the time, I was the league official for all WTT matches held in Baltimore. I told her the penalty was discretionary and that since he only hit the ball he was holding, I saw no reason to assess a penalty. BJ told me in no uncertain terms that I did not know the rules. Rather than get in a discussion with her, I ordered her to play and said I would show her the rule after the match. When the match ended, I called her over and showed her the rule which supported what I had done. Would you believe that she said I was right and that she had been wrong? If you do, you don't know Billie Jean King. What she did was snort and say, "I'll have that rule changed."  I'm sure that in the 22 years that have passed since that night in Baltimore, Billie Jean has mellowed somewhat, but don't ask me how sure I am.

By:  Jim Cummings 08/05/2006

Jim Cummings Bio:
   Born in Marinette, WI
   Boyhood friend of the Cook family
   Played varsity tennis for UW-Madison in the 50s
   Officiated at over 25 US Opens as a chair and line umpire
   Served on USTA's Rules Committee when Jack Stahr and Nick Powel were Chairs
   Active senior player and Referee
   Presently helps edit the Friend At Court
   zjimc@msn.com


 

 

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