©Colette Lewis 2011--
Flushing Meadows, NY--
Because there wasn't any tennis played today in the juniors, I spent most of the day at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center talking with fellow media members and keeping an eye out for an interesting story in case the junior matches didn't get played. I ran into Jim Russell, who is the tournament referee for the NCAA Men's team and individual events, and he is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Champions Invitational, which is the legends event held during the second week of the US Open. He mentioned the Final Eight dinner tonight, and although I was vaguely aware of the designation, which provides a US Open credential to any player who has made the quarterfinals in singles and semifinals in doubles for the rest of their lives, I realized I didn't really know what it meant to be a part of the club.
Russell didn't know exactly how long the club has been in existence, but Joel Drucker, the prominent writer who works for the Tennis Channel and is more conversant with tennis history than anyone else I know, told me the first such club was started at Wimbledon in 1986, and the other Grand Slams followed suit shortly thereafter.
I then talked to Joe Ceriello who is the manager of the USTA Training Center-East, but works in player services during the US Open. He spends most of his time providing tickets to players, and that includes members of the Final Eight club.
"It's really great," Ceriello said. "Kathleen Horvath comes in with her sons, who are tennis players, and she trades them out, and they get to watch matches courtside. The tickets are amazing in the sense that it's not a free supply of tickets, but it's for them, and a guest, every day they show up, as long as there are tickets remaining. And they have the party, but the most important thing is the credential. It's a D pass. It's the same credential a main draw player gets."
I then stopped over at the credential office, and they had a handy sheet telling me all of the perks of membership. In addition to the tickets and credentials (each member can bring one guest), club members also receive transportation and preferred hotel rates at the Grand Hyatt.
College coaches don't automatically get credentials to the US Open, so many are dependent on former players or other connections if they want to avoid the expense and inconvenience of obtaining access to the grounds. Steve Denton, the Texas A&M men's head coach, doesn't have those worries, because he is a member of the Final Eight club, having won the doubles title with Kevin Curren in 1982.
"I've only really used it since I've been at A&M the last five years," said Denton, who doesn't use the tickets for the pro matches because he is watching the juniors in action on the outside courts. "It's obviously been nice to come here, where all the good juniors are."
I wasn't able to determine who the oldest member of the club is, but I do know who the youngest one is--Jack Sock, who earned the honor when he and Melanie Oudin won their quarterfinal match in mixed doubles on Monday.
Not everyone Sock's age would be impressed with acceptance into a club that obviously skews toward older, long-retired players, but Sock was excited when he heard.
"I just heard that," said Sock, whose voice suggested he didn't still quite believe it. "I had to go downstairs and ask, because I thought someone was fibbing me. That's, wow, that's insane. I can come back here for the rest of my life if I want to. It's an amazing feeling."
Sock has ambitions to re-earn his membership via future singles or doubles performances of course, but he is grateful to have a lifetime invitation to the US Open already.
"No complaints here if I can always come back to the Big Apple and watch some good tennis. I love the sport, it's what I do, and I'm sure in the future I'll be using that little bonus."