The 2016 International Tennis Hall of Fame ceremony was pretty impressive. Marat Safin, Amélie Mauresmo and Justine Henin were among the inductees.
But the 2017 edition, to be held on Saturday before the men’s semifinals at the associated ATP Tour grass-court event, are right up there.
Two of the more popular players of the last 15 years will be among those enshrined.
Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick, both still only 34, will be in the spotlight.
These recent classes are definitely youthful. That’s especially true within the context of some of the top players still on the ATP and WTA Tours.
Safin was 36, Mauresmo just turned 37 and Henin just 34 when they were inducted a year ago. That’s right in Venus Williams-Roger Federer range.
Also in the class of 2017 is wheelchair tennis player Monique Kalkman-van den Bosch, who won two golds and a silver at the Paralympics in 1992 and 1996.
Two others will be inducted in the Contributor category: legendary tennis coach Vic Braden (posthumously), and tennis writer and historian Steve Flink.
Where is Vergeer?
Kalkman-van den Bosch has been retired for two decades. Her career spanned an era when wheelchair tennis was not included in the Grand Slam tournaments. These days, it’s an established part of the competition.
Her induction certainly makes you wonder why the practically unbeaten Esther Vergeer isn’t in yet.
It’s hard to imagine Vergeer won’t be inducted in 2019, because of a change in the rules outlined below.
Vergeer wrapped up her distinguished career with a gold in both singles and doubles at the London Paralympics. So the prescribed five-year retirement period was short a couple of months for induction in 2017. She officially announced her retirement in Feb. 2013.
Except … Roddick ended his career just a few weeks earlier than Vergeer did, at the 2012 US Open. Not only that, the American came back to play doubles at the Atlanta ATP tournament just two years ago. Clijsters also wrapped up her career at the 2012 US Open.
Changes to come for 2018
The Hall of Fame has come under some criticism for the convenient and elastic criteria it uses for induction.
It’s caught in a bit of a conflict of interest on some levels. The Hall of Fame Enshrinement weekend is a big event for the organization. It is scheduled the same week as the ATP Tour grass-court tournament.
If the museum had no one to induct one year, there would be no ceremony. So there has to be some internal pressure to try to ensure at least one well-known name is enshrined.
They even sell T-shirts and other memorabilia.
Some changes are in store as soon as next year, under the stewardship of former player Todd Martin.
-There will be automatic inclusion on the ballot in the first year of eligibility for players “who have attained extraordinary levels of achievement”. And the Hall finally lays out exactly what that means.
-There will no longer be a “Master Player” category (for those retired more than 20 years).
-There will be inductees in the Wheelchair Tennis and Contributor categories only every four years, instead of annually. They will rotate every two years, the way the Summer and Winter Olympic Games now do.
-The process will add a fan voting component from 2019.
The Hall finally has established quantifiable certia for automatic inclusion on the ballot. They do seem somewhat arbitrary. But the bar definitely has been raised.
Singles players must have won at least three Grand Slam titles and been world No. 1 for at least 13 weeks. Alternatively, five major singles titles will get you included. In doubles, a player has to win 12 major doubles titles and have been No. 1 for at least 52 weeks. Or, have won 15 Slams.
Still room for interpretation
Players who fail to meet those criteria will have their qualifications assessed by the “Enshrinee Nominating Committee”. So the Hall is leaving itself an opening during the potential lean years.
That may happen over the next decade.
The current top group of men (as well as the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova) continue to play. After that, they must wait out their five-year grace period.
It’s difficult, off the top of your head, to come up with worthy candidates in the interim. Certainly there will be none who qualify unless they make some kind of major late-career push.
The committee will retain the consideration it gives to “integrity, sportsmanship, and character.”
The “Contributor” category is now defined thusly: “an individual who is a true pioneer, visionary leader, or who has made a transcendent difference within the sport of tennis. Additionally, Contributor candidates must be age 65 or have been retired from their work in tennis for five years.”
So Flink, who remains active, wouldn’t have made it based on the new criteria. Neither would Roddick, who has one major title and 13 weeks at No. 1. For that matter, with two majors and nine weeks at No. 1, Safin wouldn’t meet the criteria. Neither would Mauresmo. The Frenchwoman more more than fulfills the criteria for weeks at No. 1, but has “just” two Grand Slam titles on her resumé.
Clijsters and Henin would make it.