2016-07-14 / Front Page

History Still Resonates for Former Ball Boy

By Betsy Sherman Walker


International Tennis Hall of Fame ball kids, with ball kid alumnus Angus Macaulay (names are in alphabetical order): Morgan Crimmins, Boston; Antonio and Isabella Curran, Bristol; Alyssa and Cory Morris (team captain), Rumford; Liza Nunes, Newport; Sepehr Raissi, East Greenwich; and Eliot Wemple, Barrington. (Photo by Jen Carter) International Tennis Hall of Fame ball kids, with ball kid alumnus Angus Macaulay (names are in alphabetical order): Morgan Crimmins, Boston; Antonio and Isabella Curran, Bristol; Alyssa and Cory Morris (team captain), Rumford; Liza Nunes, Newport; Sepehr Raissi, East Greenwich; and Eliot Wemple, Barrington. (Photo by Jen Carter) “Grass is for cows.”

This legendary “urban” tennis phrase was allegedly made in reference to playing at Wimbledon, by a long line of champions who find playing on grass problematic and unpredictable. It was introduced to Newport’s tennis community one day in 1971 by French champion Françoise Dürr playing at the Virginia Slims women’s tennis tournament. Dürr was fresh from a doubles victory at the French Open, famously played on clay courts. She slipped on the grass, missed the shot, said what she said, and that night it was the prominent sports story.

Angus Macaulay, an artist who lives in Florida with family ties to Newport, was the ball boy for Dürr that day, standing close enough to hear exactly what she said. And to be the one to retrieve the errant ball. He was 12 at the time.

On Tuesday of this week, Macaulay, now 58, had a ticket to take in the second day of the International Tennis Hall of Fame Tennis Championships – from the comfort of a box seat, with a terrific, front and center view of the action on the court. But after an hour or so of watching the day’s second match, the past began to intervene.

The larger draw, for him, was the memories.

Macaulay spent two summers on the grass courts of the casino as a ball boy, retrieving and returning errant balls for some of the sport’s top-ranked women’s players at the Virginia Slims of Newport, the now-defunct tournament played from 1971 to 1990 at the ITHF.

As a young boy who was a student at the time at Cluny School (his father was a commander in the Navy), tennis was Macaulay’s passion. He thought he might someday turn professional. “Tennis was my everything at that age,” he says.” He went on to play competitively in college and made it to the NCAA Division III championships, worked for the International Tennis Federation in London in developing the sport in Africa, and still competes in the USTA senior circuit.

He still remembers the thrill of being in the midst of it all. “You’d be walking around and Martina [Navratilova] and Chris [Evert] and her sister Jeannie would walk by,” he says, “talking tennis. The atmosphere was very different back then,” he adds, referring to the security measures now in place. “They were part of the crowd and very approachable.” (Case in point: A family friend who was there began a conversation with Navratilova, and ended up asking her out on a date.)

Macaulay particularly remembers the buzz created by Navratilova and her powerful game. “It was when she first came over to America and hadn’t defected yet,” he says. “Everybody was saying,

‘This woman will change tennis.’” Noted for not having a backhand drive, he says “she would serve and volley and make more of a game of it. She had all-court game, and stood out as a result.”

Today, Becky Silva is the current ITHF Ball Kid Coordinator. For the past 10 years, she and her husband have been coordinating the group, which this summer includes a total of 73 kids, with 50 returning and 23 rookies. Training involves four mandatory training sessions in June – mock matches with local high-level tennis players. “The kids have to be quick, mentally tough, fast learners, and mature enough to be able to represent the Hall of Fame at all times.”

One of Silva’s team captains, Colby Richardson from Jamestown, has been a ball boy for the last seven years. He is incredibly impressed with “how crazy fast the players hit.” Richardson agrees with the need for a good eye and the ability to “get out of everyone’s way.”

On Tuesday, Macaulay went into the Hall of Fame museum for the first time. It was there that he saw – and relived – the story about Françoise Dürr. When asked about what had changed, he says that the game has definitely evolved, if only to take advantage of technology. “Everything now is computerized,” he says.

But the ambient history and relevance of the Casino has not. After managing to lob himself into a group photograph of the 2016 generation of ball kids, Macaulay says he once again became a reverent 12-year-old. Even then, he says, he was touched by “the age and the beauty of it, and the tradition and tennis history. If you are participating in some way, it makes you feel special to be part of the tennis tradition. It’s all part of the history.”

And the thrill, he adds, is never gone.

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