Grass Court Tennis in New England

Crowds watching tennis at the Newport Casino (photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The sport of tennis—lawn tennis—was born on nature’s green turf. But these days, if you sneeze, you’ll miss the pro circuit’s grass court season. It lasts only five weeks, with the current fortnight of Wimbledon being the supreme highlight.

If the action from the big W has you in the mood for some grass (tennis that is), New England is the place to be. Along with the weather, the region has something else in common with old England: a cherishing of the tradition of grass court tennis.

Nahant, Massachusetts lays claim to being the site of the first tennis match in the United States. On a seaside estate just north of Boston in 1874, James Dwight and Fred Sears, a couple of bluebloods on the green lawns, opened up a boxed tennis set newly imported from London, staked out a court, and began to swat the rubber ball with their spoon-shaped racquets. Drive down Swallow Cave Road in Nahant today, and you’ll find a small wooden sign just a short lob from Massachusetts Bay that reads: “The first game of lawn tennis in the United States was played at this site in August of 1874.”

International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport, RI (photo courtesy of

These days, there is only one grass court tournament left in America: the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. (This year’s tournament is July 4-10.) The tourney is held at the Newport Casino, the home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, where the highlight of the week is not the final on Sunday, but semifinal day on Saturday, which coincides with the annual induction of new members of the Hall of Fame. This year’s inductees include Andre Agassi, such a popular draw that a live simulcast is being offered. Agassi will also pick up a racquet on July 10 in an exhibition against Todd Martin.

If you’re inspired to try out the same grass courts the pros play on, you actually can at the Tennis Hall of Fame. The courts are available for rental. How cool is that?

Weekend hackers in the Boston area may also be interested in knowing that the Sportsmen’s Tennis Club is hosting a women’s challenger event through June 26, and on July 5 the Boston Lobsters return to World Team Tennis action.

Editor’s Note: Want to know more about the duo that brought lawn tennis to the United States, Newport’s International Tennis Hall of Fame, and the Boston Lobsters? Pick up The Die-Hard Sports Fan’s Guide to Boston by Christopher Klein, available in bookstores and online.

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