James Henry Van Alen II

Inducted: 1975
Born: 1902
Died: 1991

In 1975, James Henry Van Alen II was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame because of his contributions to the world of tennis. Van Alen earned renown as the founder of Newport’s International Tennis Hall of Fame, the largest tennis museum in the world. A poet, musician, publisher, civic leader and storyteller, Jimmy Van Alen achieved his greatest fame as the founder and supporter of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum located the Newport Casino.  In 1954, he donated the museum to the United States Tennis Association.

However, his greatest contribution to the game of tennis was his  invention of the tiebreak.  The  Van Alen Streamlined Scoring System (VASSS) supported a sudden-death tie breaker to put an end to lengthy tennis matches. In 1970 the U.S. Open became the first Grand Slam tournament to introduce, on an experimental basis, the tie-break. Initially it was a best-of-nine-points, sudden death tie-break which made it possible to have simultaneous match points for both players. Via a few intermediary steps, this would evolve into the current best-of-twelve-point tie-break.

For these pioneering achievements, Van Alen was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1965.

Van Alen was born on September 19, 1902, in Newport to James Laurens Van Alen (1878–1927) and Margaret “Daisy” Louise Post Bruguiere (1876–1969), who was regarded as Newport’s wealthiest woman.  He graduated in 1924 from England’s Cambridge University where he was a member of Christ’s College won his blue for Lawn Tennis. He was a member of the Hawks’ Club in Cambridge where the main lounge is now named the ‘Jimmy Van Alen Room’. He was an avid tennis player and was a national singles and doubles champion in court tennis.

Because of his admiration for Clement Moore’s famous poem, Twas the Night Before Christmas. Van Alen bought and renovated the Clement C. Moore house on Catherine Street in Newport and made the public reading of the traditional poem a staple of Christmas festivities every year.

Unfortunately, he died as the result of a fall at his home on July 3, 1991. He is buried with his wife Candace at the Berkeley Memorial Cemetery at Saint Columba’s Chapel in Middletown, Rhode Island.

John Parrillo

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