The US Open means something different to every tennis fan. For Robert Eyre, it’s about history, family and a story that dates back nearly a century.
An avid player in the Philadelphia area, Eyre has US Open royalty in his blood – and the trophy case to prove it. Surprisingly enough, he didn’t truly learn the whole story about his great-uncle Clarence Griffin – or the hardware that tells his story – until just a few years ago.
“Growing up, I remember my mother always had a bracelet with little gold balls on it,” Eyre said. “I always wondered what it was, and she said it was given to her uncle for winning a tennis tournament. I never really thought much more about it.”
About three years back, Eyre began playing at Mill Creek Tennis Club and got to know teaching pro Fred Perrin. The two were talking when Eyre mentioned the gold balls that his mother used to wear on a bracelet around her wrist. He brought them in and watched Perrin’s jaw drop.
The gold balls read: Clarence J. Griffin, USA Air Service (Griffin also served the United States in World War I). Turns out, Eyre’s great-uncle won more than just a standard tennis tournament. In fact, Clarence Griffin had won the doubles draw of the US National Championships (now known as the US Open) three times.
Eyre, 52, was just 12 when Griffin died, but that hasn’t stopped him from learning more about his history.
“When I showed Fred the tennis balls, it really got me thinking about them again,” Eyre said. “Last year, my wife and I went to the US Open. On the wall with the past winners, there he was. To know I had someone in the family do something like that…it was really cool and made the event even more special.”
Griffin, an International Tennis Hall of Famer, won his titles in 1915, 1916 and 1920 with doubles partner Bill Johnston. He was one of the most successful players of his time.
“Sometimes I feel like I have to keep tennis going because it’s kind of like a family tradition now,” he said. “I’m not the highest level player, but I love playing because it’s fun.”
“Watching the US Open, you realize what a tough sport tennis is, and how amazing these players are,” he added. “Things are different now, but they were pretty good back then, too. It’s pretty cool to have that connection.”