In 1977, an 18-year-old John McEnroe played in his first U.S. Open, reaching the fourth round. McEnroe still had 15 more U.S. Opens ahead of him. But for the Forest Hills Stadium at The West Side Tennis Club, 1977 was the last dance. The U.S. Open moved to Flushing Meadows in 1978.
In the crowd at Forest Hills that year was John's then-11-year-old brother, Patrick.
"That was a huge deal," Patrick says. "There were guys like Guillermo Vilas and Manuel Orantes. Of course, Jimmy Connors. I remember getting a special pass to go into the clubhouse."
Patrick went on to have a successful tennis career of his own, reaching No. 28 in the world. The iconic venue now returns to McEnroe's life. The 49-year-old will coach the New York Empire, a new Mylan World TeamTennis club based in Forest Hills Stadium. Andy Roddick will be the team's marquee player.
"I've sort of been part of Forest Hills at every level," McEnroe says. "As a kid, going to the U.S. Open, as a junior player, playing there was a big deal. As a pro, I played in the exhibition there they used to have before the U.S. Open. Obviously I used to watch my brother in different tournaments. So I've sort of seen it all there. This will be a great way to get back into it and do something that's never been done there."
From 1915 to 1977, the U.S. Open was hosted at The West Side Tennis Club, with the stadium being completed in time for the 1923 event. Bill Tilden, Rod Laver, Arthur Ashe, Connors, Althea Gibson, Margaret Court, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert all won at Forest Hills.
After the U.S. Open shifted to Flushing Meadows, Forest Hills Stadium continued to host to a variety of professional and exhibition events, underwent a renovation in 1990 and focused on functioning as a club.
"When Team Tennis contacted me about this possibility, the first thing I said was, 'Is the club excited about having this?'" McEnroe says. "They said, 'Absolutely.' They're really excited about having Team Tennis come back, and it can maybe help bring tennis back to life a little bit over there at least at the professional level. I think it's a great opportunity for the club to get back on the map. Obviously there's just so much history there and so many great memories."
McEnroe says his brightest Forest Hills memory comes from a junior tournament around age 14 or 15 when he got to play his semifinal and final match on center court. He and John also used to train at The West Side Tennis Club before Wimbledon, as the grounds featured grass courts, a rarity in the New York area.
The last time McEnroe visited Forest Hills for pro tennis came roughly a decade ago. McEnroe was the United States Davis Cup team captain, and James Blake was attempting a comeback from injury. Blake entered a clay event at the Challenger level.
"At that time, the Stadium was shut down, so you weren't allowed to play in the actual stadium," McEnroe says. "They had stands on the outside courts."
McEnroe and Roddick's team will be finalized at the upcoming World TeamTennis Draft. The league's other teams are located in Orange County, Philadelphia, San Diego, Springfield (Missouri) and Washington D.C. McEnroe will lean toward players with a local New York/New Jersey/Connecticut flavor.
Roddick was born in Nebraska, raised in Texas and trained in Florida, but he and McEnroe have a deep history. For much of McEnroe's Davis Cup captaincy from 2000-2010, Roddick was the biggest name on the roster. McEnroe has not spoke to Roddick since the Forest Hills announcement on Feb. 17, but he is looking forward to reuniting.
"Obviously, we both have incredible memories of the Davis Cup, not just winning the Davis Cup, but all the time we spent together trying to win the Davis Cup," McEnroe says. "He was so clearly the leader of our team for many years. I remember the trials and tribulations we went through as much as the great wins."
Shortly before this year's U.S. Open, American tennis, with some of its biggest names, returns to its original home in Queens. Not in Flushing, but in Forest Hills.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.