MELBOURNE, Australia – The International Tennis Hall of Fame is becoming the Hall of the very, very good rather than the home of the all-time greats.
Michael Stich of Germany and Helena Sukova of the Czech Republic, the newest inductees, are a case in point.
The two will be inducted as part of the ATP Tour event at the Hall of Fame home in Newport, Rhode Island in July.
Stich, now 49, has 18 titles including one Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon. His career highs stand at No. 2 in singles and No. 9 in doubles.
Sukova does not have a Grand Slam title in singles. But she did reached four finals – two at the US Open, and two at the Australian Open. It was a pretty tough era. Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert hogged all the hardware early. And the Steffi Graf/Monica Seles et al era came later.
Her career-best ranking in singles is No. 4. And she was a longtime No. 1 in doubles.
The 6-2 righty has 69 doubles titles (including nine majors) and five Grand Slam mixed doubles titles (three of them with her brother Cyril).
Which is not to say that both are not hugely accomplished tennis player.
And Sukova is not a hugely accomplished person. She has given back on many levels, both during her tennis career and in the aftermath.
But despite the revision of the criteria to be eligible for the Hall, the two new inductees were never No. 1, and have one singles Grand Slam between them. That’s very, very good. But it’s not great.
While Michael Stich and Helena Sukova are to be elected to the @TennisHalloFame, Pat Cash, Anders Jarryd and Tom Okker all missed out – and since it was the last year they were eligible, that's it for them
It’s worth noting that Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who has been No. 1 and has 26 career titles in singles (and 27 more in doubles where he reached a career high of No. 4), is still persona non grata in the Hall. Among those trophies are two Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal.
The Hall also missed the boat a little on the timing. The inductees for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY were also made Wednesday. So in the grand scheme of Hall of Fame news, it took a distant second place in the U.S.
Calling Doctor Sukova
Stich is currently the tournament director at the Hamburg ATP Tour event after Wimbledon.
As for Sukova, 52, she’s now Dr. Sukova. She’s a sports psychologist and according to her WTA Tour bio, is the vice-president of the sports psychologist’s association in her native Czech Republic. That’s just one of a stellar and significant list of commitments, including being a mentor to countrywoman Katerina Siniakova.
Sukova was on hand Thursday night in Melbourne, where a Hall of Fame ceremony was held before the men’s semifinal match between Kyle Edmund and Marin Cilic. She looks amazing.
Among those on hand were Martina, and Billie Jean, and the Rocket, and Muscles, and many more legends of the game. Sukova now joins them.
“I’m so happy to be here, after 20 years. My last year was ’98. This is a special moment for me to suddenly be a part of this row of champions, and I have goosebumps just standing next to them,” Sukova said in a brief speech.
Stich, now 48, is a “one-Slam wonder” as he took the Wimbledon title in 1991.
But he also reached the US Open final in 1994, the French Open final in 1996 and won the ATP Tour finals in 1993.
In all, Stich (the tournament director of the Hamburg event) has 18 singles and 10 doubles titles on his resumé. He reached a career high in singles of No. 2 in 1993. He also reached the top 10 in doubles, peaking at No. 9 late in 1992.
His effort to win the 1992 Wimbledon doubles title with John McEnroe in a match held over by rain was upper-level. They beat Jim Grabb and Richey Reneberg 5-, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6, … 19-17. The pair also reached the final at the US Open that year, losing in five sets to Grabb and Reneberg.
Now 52, Cash won Wimbledon 30 years ago, his first and only Grand Slam singles title. The following year, he reached career highs of No. 4 in singles and No. 6 in doubles.
He reached the Australian Open singles final both in 1987 and 1988, and won seven singles titles in all. He also owns 12 doubles titles and helped Australia win two Davis Cup titles.
Cash is currently coaching American Coco Vandeweghe, who is in the quarterfinals of the US Open.
Also 52, the Czech native has 14 Grand Slam titles on her resumé. She won nine of them in women’s doubles, and five more in mixed – three of them with her brother Cyril. Their mom, Vera, reached the Wimbledon singles final in 1962.
Sukova reached four Grand Slam singles finals in a tough era; she lost the first two to to Chris Evert and Martina Navrilova. And then, she lost two more to Steffi Graf.
The tall Czech won 10 career singles titles and 69 doubles titles.
She qualified for the WTA’s season-ending championships 11 times in singles and 13 times in doubles.
Sukova is currently working with fellow Czech Katerina Siniakova.
Okker, now 73, was ranked in the top-10 every year from 1968 to 1973 (this was, of course, before the ATP Tour computer rankings came in).
He reached the US Open singles final in 1968, the first year the tournament was re-opened to the professional players after seven years without some of the best in the world. (Of note, it was the first tournament to offer prize money – a total of $100,000. The winner’s check should have gone to champion Arthur Ashe. But he was still an amateur; so Okker got the motherlode).
Okker reached the singles semifinals at the three other majors.
The Dutchman won the French Open men’s doubles title in 1973 with John Newcombe over Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase, and the US Open in 1976.
A fine Swede who, like most Swedes, played in the shadow another. First it was Bjorn Borg and then, in Jarryd’s day, Stefan Edberg.
Now 56, Jarryd mostly made his mark as a doubles player. He won eight Grand Slam doubles titles: three at the French Open, two each at Wimbledon and the US Open and one at the Australian Open. He held the No. 1 ranking in doubles and also reached a career high of No. 5 in singles.
He played with a couple of fine partners much of his career: Edberg, and Aussie John Fitzgerald. With his help, Sweden won the Davis Cup in 1987, and made the final in 1986, 1988 and 1989.
Jarryd won eight singles titles. To that, he added 57 doubles titles.
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 criteria 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.
The Southern California Tennis Association Hall of Fame will have a rather illustrious Class of 2017 at its annual induction gala in October.
Joining the likes of Billie Jean King, Tracy Austin and Michael Chang will be a group headlined by the immortal Rod Laver.
Laver, inducted into the International Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island in 1981, has a strong southern California connection.
He is a longtime resident of Carlsbad, just north of San Diego.
*Debbie Graham (Shaffer), who reached the top 35 in both singles and doubles after a standout college career at Stanford.
*Jim and Annette Buck, longtime players and coaches who are an invaluable part of the Southern California tennis family.
*Herb Flam, who was a standout college player at UCLA, ranked in the top-10 in the world back in the amateur days in the 1950s, a Davis Cup player and a nine-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist.
*Bobby Riggs, who won the singles, doubles and mixed titles at Wimbledon in 1939 and whose story is back in the public eye these days with the imminent release of the movie about his historic match against Billie Jean King in 1973.
*Stella Sampras-Webster, sister of Pete and a four-time All-American at UCLA. She has spent more 20 years as the head coach of the women’s team at UCLA.