NEWPORT, R.I. -- For me it was the 1973 ''battle of the sexes" between tennis great Billie Jean King and publicity hound Bobby Riggs. For others it might be Rod Laver's second tennis Grand Slam in 1969 or the faceoff between Venus and Serena Williams in the 2002 Wimbledon final.
Whatever the moment that turned you on to tennis, it is captured in the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum.
The museum is on the grounds of Newport's historic casino, designed in 1880 by the fledgling architecture firm of McKim, Mead, and White. The Victorian shingle-style structure features weathered gray wood, deep green trim, steeply pitched gables, a second-story balcony, latticework, cupolas, and green-and-white-striped awnings. Encircled by the sprawling building are the grass tennis courts.
Galleries focus on great players, court tennis, lawn tennis, Newport casino history, the evolution of the game from 1920 to 1968, the Grand Slam International Tennis Federation, as well as the ATP Men's Tour and the Billie Jean King WTA Tour.
Tennis evolved from ''jeux de paumes," or games played with balls struck by hand. On display is a late-17th-century or early-18th-century precursor of the tennis racket, a battoir made of wood, parchment, and sheepskin. In the mid-1800s the invention of rubber balls that bounced on freshly mowed lawns fueled the popularity of lawn tennis. A life-size tableau portrays a woman in full Victorian dress wielding a tennis racket.
As women played more tennis, the public became increasingly fixated on wardrobe. In 1949 Wimbledon drew its biggest postwar crowd, said by many to have been drawn to see ''Gussy's panties," the tennis dress and matching lace undershorts worn by Gertrude ''Gorgeous Gussy" Moran in her Wimbledon debut. It caused quite a stir.
The man who designed that outfit, Ted Tinling, was asked to leave Wimbledon as a player liaison. Undaunted, he went on to produce trend-setting dresses for many of the great women players in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, including King, Virginia Wade, Rosie Casals, and Chris Evert. Many of these outfits are on display, along with sketchbooks with penciled-in notes on topics such as what style would flatter whom and where a certain player needed more room in the armhole.
Newsreels of classic matches filled with the rhythmic whack of racket on ball, the excited voices of sportscasters, and the cheers of spectators add a sense of action and drama. As you move from room to room, the music changes to reflect the era.
One room highlights the 2005 inductees: Butch Buchholz, Jim Courier, Jana Novotna, and Yannick Noah. Since the International Tennis Hall of Fame was founded in 1954, there have been 175 inductees, representing 18 countries. Another section pays tribute to the five players who have achieved the sport's ultimate goal, the Grand Slam, sweeping the four major tournaments -- Wimbledon and the Australian, French, and US Opens -- in a single year. They are Don Budge (1938), Maureen Connolly (1953), Laver (1962, 1969), Margaret Smith Court (1970), and Steffi Graf (1988).
Another gallery explores the social history of the casino, with a tableau replicating a card room from the late 19th century, with stained-glass windows depicting Greek goddesses holding tennis rackets. In its heyday, the casino offered archery, billiards, bowling, concerts, dancing, dining, horse shows, lawn bowling, reading, tea parties, and theatricals in addition to the staples of its present day offerings: lawn and court tennis.
The site claims to have the world's oldest continuously used competition grass courts and the only competition grass courts in the country still open to the public for play. If you're so inclined, you can reserve court time in season and create your own piece of tennis history.
Contact Ellen Albanese at email@example.com.