SERVES UP

Clay Court Championship's return serves up memories of Texas tennis history

Tournament play starts this weekend. US Men's Clay Court Championship/Facebook

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

One of my favorite weeks in Houston is around the corner: The Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship at River Oaks Country Club. Play starts Saturday, April 6, with the championship match set for April 14.

Steve Johnson is the two-time defending champion and top seed, hoping to become the first three-peater since Bobby Riggs accomplished the feat from 1936 to 1938. Other stars prepared to knock off Johnson include Americans Sam Querrey, Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka, and Tennys Sandgren.

International players include Jeremy Chardy from France; Pablo Cuevas from Uruguay; Cameron Norrie from Great Britain; Jordan Thompson from Australia; Janko Tipsarevic from Serbia; and the all-time leader in service aces, Ivo Karlevic from Croatia.

Houston history

This tournament, and this city, hold a special place in tennis history. Players love starting tennis' clay court season in Houston because of the stature of the event, the relaxed atmosphere and hospitality of the River Oaks crowd and competitive field it draws. Of course, the prize money of $583,585 has a certain appeal. These are not amateur players, after all.

"As much as anything, it's the sense of tradition and community that make this event unique. This is our 85th year, and so many of our patrons have had their tickets in their family for decades. Take that and add playing in a historic stadium during the peak of springtime in Houston, and it's really a perfect atmosphere to watch world class tennis," says tournament director Bronwyn Greer.

"For the players, we offer a very relaxed week," Greer adds. Many stay in private housing very near the club, so the opportunity to get out of the hotel room grind is very welcome. Many play here year after year, and they get to know our fans. They love this atmosphere, and it's a great transition week to get onto clay after the hard-court season."

River Oaks has hosted a tennis tournament since 1931. Ellsworth Vines, America's No. 1 player at the time, won the inaugural River Oaks Invitational. And the top players kept on coming: Jack Kramer, Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Ivan Lendl, and Guillermo Vilas all held the championship trophy.

One match really propelled this event into tennis prominence: the 1974 final between 34-year-old Rod Laver, considered by some the greatest player ever, against 17-year-old sensation Bjorn Borg. The match was broadcast on national TV, with the master Laver winning in straight sets, 7-6, 6-2. Laver called the River Oaks Invitational "the best tournament in the world next to Wimbledon."

Stars on clay
In 2008, River Oaks welcomed the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship, which began in 1910. It's the oldest tennis tournament in the U.S. and the only ATP tour level event played on clay. The roster of winners reads like a Hall of Fame: Big Bill Tilden, Pancho Gonzalez, Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, and many more.

Chuck McKinley won the Clay Courts in 1963, the same year he captured the Wimbledon singles title as a senior at Trinity University in San Antonio. Ryan Sweeting won the Clay Court title in 2011, only two years before marrying Big Bang Theory star Kaley Cuoco.

The importance and legend of the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship and River Oaks are highlights in Ken McAllister's new book, Cattle to Courts: a History of Tennis in Texas. I read this book cover-to-cover in one blast, but I'm a tennis head. It's as much a good read as an encyclopedia of Texas' role in the growth of the sport, and how the 1970s boom started in Houston.

Billie Jean's domination
Two events key Houston's leading role: the birth of women's professional tennis in 1970, and a little tennis match heard 'round the world at the Astrodome. Billie Jean King dominated both landmarks.

King, angered by her payoff for winning a title in Rome — men's champion Ilie Nastase made $3,500 while she pocketed only $600 — rallied top female players to demand better prize money. King and seven other players formed the Houston Original 8 and held the first Virginia Slims tournament at the Houston Racquet Club. That tourney started the Virginia Slims tour, which eventually became the worldwide and mighty Women's Tennis Association.

Then, on September 20, 1973, a Thursday night on ABC, King faced Bobby Riggs in a $100,000, winner-take-all, best-of-five match in front of 30,000 fans at the Houston Astrodome.

This was the "Battle of the Sexes," and more than anything else, made women's tennis a major sport. According to McAllister, a member of the Texas Coaches Hall of Fame, after King walloped Riggs in straight sets, tennis instructors suddenly were teaching more women than men.

Continue reading on CultureMap to learn more about the "Battle of the Sexes."

Photo courtesy of Fitness in the Loop

Jovan Abernathy is an international marathoner and owner of Houston Tourism Gym. To claim your free tour, contact her at info@tourismgymhtx.com

One Saturday morning, I was out driving around and saw what looked like a yoga class being held at a local, popular bar. I thought, "that is so cool! I'm sure the good people of Houston would love to know where to get their workout on and their drink on at the same time." So, this article was born. I went on the hunt to make a fully comprehensive list of the breweries, bars, and restaurants where you can get a workout. Here goes.

Yoga and brunch at Clutch

​Jovan Abernathy 

Yoga at Clutch

Saturday@ 11am

5334 Washington Ave. Houston, Tx 77007

During the week, Clutch is where 20 somethings and 30 somethings go to enjoy a burger. But come Saturday morning, join Clutch and Fitness In The Loop for an hour long yoga class that is always free. Release the tension of the week and finish with $5 mimosa specials. Enjoy light to heavy fair like avocado toast, greek yogurt, or chicken and waffles.

Watermelon cooler, micheladas, of course, yoga​

Courtesy of Fitness in the Loop

Yoga at Spring Street Beer and Wine Garden

Sundays@ 11am

1920 Houston Ave. Houston, Tx 77007

If you find yourself in the artsy First Ward on Sundays, you can catch yoga with the other hipsters at Spring Street Beer and Wine Garden. Enjoy an hour class of yoga that is always free. Spring Street Beer and Wine Garden has its own food truck waiting to serve you burgers, flatbreads, and tacos after the class. Most people opt for a Watermelon Cooler or a $4 Michelada to get refreshed.

Instagram: @FitnessInTheLoop

​Run, bike, and cross-train at Karbach Brewing 

​Courtesy of Karbach Athletics

Cross-train at Karbach Brewery

Wednesdays @ 7pm

2032 Karbach St. Houston, Tx 77092

We all know Karbach Brewing for Houston beer favorites like Weekend Warrior and Love Street Kolsch. If you are a Karbach fan, you also know that it is a weekend destination with so many activities to offer that you cannot fit them in one weekend. Forget that Karbach has a full restaurant with pub favorites like fish and chips and beer can chicken. Not everyone knows that Karbach has its own athletic department complete with yoga, a running club, and a cross training brew camp in the Biergarten. You can work off those beer calories in the cross training Karbach Brew Camp. $10 gets you in. Just bring a mat and wear comfortable workout clothes. Be ready to sweat and earn that free Weekend Warrior at the end!

Bike Ride from Eureka Heights

Every Third Friday

941 W 18th St. Houston, Tx 77008

You may pass Eureka Heights on your Sunday Funday on 18th st on the way to Mckintyre's. This brewery is known for its fun, approachable session beers. They are responsible for Buckle Bunny Cream Ale and other fun, low alcohol beers like Space Train IPA. Every third Friday, you can come to Eureka Heights and enjoy a 10 - 15 mile bike ride/bar crawl that starts and ends at Eureka Heights. Enjoy $2 off beers and food from food trucks like Curbside Sliders and Riceology.

Run by the Bayou with Sigma Brewing ​

Courtesy of David Lynn

Sigma Brewery Run

Thursday @ 7pm till….

3118 Harrisburg Blvd. Houston, Tx 77003

Feel like exploring the East End? Take a run with Sigma Brewery Running Club. Sigma Brewery is known for their science fiction themed beers like Terminator 2's 08/29/97 IPA. Their running club meets on Thursdays and changes their route often. One week, run around the bayou and the next from stadium to stadium. End back at the brewery for the famous sessionable running beer XPA and play some old school Super Mario Brothers at your own station.

Walk to Harrisburg Art Museum from True Anomaly Brewing with Houston Tourism Gym​

Jovan Abernathy ​

5 Mile Walk from True Anomaly Brewing

Sundays @ 5:30pm

2012 Dallas St. Houston, Tx 77003

Wanna try something low impact and still get a workout. Houston Tourism Gymmeets at the new brewery in Eado, True Anamoly Brewing for a 5 milewalk through Eado. Visit 3 mural posing spots and 2 breweries. Starts at True Anamoly and ends at Rodeo Goat for burgers. Always Pay What You Can! Reserve your spot HERE!

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