April 11, 2014
By Richard Finn
Special to BIG EAST.com
Men's Tennis Championship Central l Women's Tennis Championship Central
NEW YORK - New York is the ancestral home to American tennis.
It has been home to the U.S. Championships without interruption since 1924, first at the historic West Side Tennis Club tucked away in Forest Hills, Queens. That's where, for more than 50 years, giants of the game like Rod Laver, Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King played on its pristine grass courts.
In 1978 the U.S. Championships (now called the U.S. Open) moved a few miles away to Flushing Meadows and the sprawling National Tennis Center (now called the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center). Here the recent generations of greats like Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Serena and Venus Williams, Chris Evert and more have thrilled us all.
"Just as most people consider Madison Square Garden the Mecca of basketball, I would think that the National Tennis Center is the Mecca of tennis in the United States," said Kathleen Meehan, Associate Vice President of Athletics at St. John's.
This spring New York and the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center becomes home to another major tennis event - the BIG EAST Men and Women's Tennis Championships April 24-27.
"This represents New York and tennis," St. John's men's s coach Eric Rebhuhn said of the massive complex that is the Red Storm's home courts. "Second to none I just think that it is the top tennis facility in the country."
In all, six BIG EAST champions have been or will be crowned in New York in 2013-14. Providence won the men's basketball trophy at Madison Square Garden in March, and before that Villanova swept the men's and women's indoor track and field titles at the famed New York City Armory. In addition to men's and women's tennis in two weeks, the BIG EAST baseball championship will be determined at Brooklyn's MCU Park.
"It sets the tone for the conference, it is a new BIG EAST Conference," Rebhuhn said of the concentration of league championships in New York.
This year's venue will be a major departure from past tournament sites and instantly raises the prestige and stature of the event, according to Rebhuhn.
"If you are a tennis player, you know the U.S. Open. For all of the teams that will be here, they will really feel how special of a place this is," said Rebhuhn, in his 13th season at St. Johns. "How many chances does any college tennis team have to play at the home of the U.S. Open? This is where the best players in the world play every September.
"They will feel that this is the court where (Roger) Federer has played or where (Rafael) Nadal has practiced. If you are a truly into tennis this is second to none."
That excitement is already growing.
"As you can imagine, this is one of our dream places we always dreamed about as children," said DePaul junior Patricia Fargas, a native of Spain. "All the best tennis players in the world have played there, so it's an honor for us."
The Blue Demon women will be strong title favorites and coach Mark Ardizzone will work on keeping his players focused on winning and not let the gaudy surroundings be a distraction.
"It's an exciting place to have a tournament. But when we get there we will do the `Hoosier' line that the court is still 78 feet long and 36 feet wide," said Ardizzone. "We will definitely enjoy the moment while we are there and while we are trying to get the job done."
The Red Storm men are also expected to be title favorites and playing on their home courts should be an advantage, but Rebhuhn is expecting a very competitive few days.
"It is not like the courts are different than the average hard court," said Rebhuhn. "Everybody is going to have the ability to play and compete.
"It's going to be an amazing tournament."