It’s not every day you come across a piece of U.S. Open venue memorabilia, particularly one used by a tennis legend like Serena Williams. But eBay seller Barry Meisel of the MeiGray Group store has a rare exception in the form of the actual nets used in the U.S. Open tennis championships — including the 2013 and 2014 finals nets, which gave Serena two of her whopping 23 singles finals championships.
MeiGray Group was launched in 1997 by Barry and fellow sports lover Bob Gray. Barry, a former sports journalist, says he was a collector well before it was fashionable. “Back in the 1980s,” he says, “it was a really niche, under-the-table hobby. I had this idea to contract to partner with teams and leagues to basically organize the game-worn [memorabilia] space.”
MeiGray has worked with the NBA, NHL and many other leagues, but one of its most interesting contracts was with the United States Tennis Association, or USTA, he said. “In 2012, we reached out to the USTA, and for four years we were the official authenticators in the U.S. Open.” That means, according to Barry, that the USTA officially gave MeiGray the go-ahead to attest to the authenticity of the gear they sold, a process which involves maintaining a database, checking serial numbers and holograms, cross-checking with official photos and all kinds of other ways of making sure that the goods are the real deal. “We literally were on the grounds, collecting match-used balls, the chairs that were on the courts, and we would take the nets after each championship match.”
Credit: Matthew Stockman, Getty Images Sport
For Barry, the U.S. Open isn’t just the final major tournament of the thoroughly international tennis season; it's his hometown event. MeiGray is based in Branchburg, New Jersey, under 50 miles from New York City. “Of course we’re national and international,” Barry says, “but the U.S. Open is in our backyard, so it was a natural fit for us.”
MeiGray also uses its own online store, but has maintained an eBay page since 2000. “We use eBay to get that mass appeal,” he says. “eBay gets more eyes than anybody.” And that’s a huge advantage for a seller of memorabilia with a global appeal.
Behind the Nets
MeiGray has sold lots of game-used — technically, match-used — memorabilia from the U.S. Open, but the nets are highly unusual.
Over at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (the Queens, New York, host of the U.S. Open), the equipment isn’t exactly your standard stuff. Professional tennis has a more complex arrangement than most sports; it has various tournaments run by multiple organizations. So individual tournaments have some freedom as to their nets, as long as they fall within some parameters.
The International Tennis Federation, or ITF, is the governing body of the professional sport, and it mandates certain rules about the net itself: the height at the posts (3.5 feet), the height at the center of the court (3 feet), the width of the band atop the net (between 2 and 2.5 inches) as well as its color (“completely white”), and the size of the holes in the mesh (“of sufficiently small mesh to ensure that a ball cannot pass through it”). But that leaves some freedom, and nets vary.
MeiGray is currently selling three U.S. Open nets, one each used in the 2013 and 2014 singles championship matches (both men and women), and one from the 2014 men’s doubles championship match. These are genuine pieces of history, especially given that Serena Williams this year retired from professional tennis, cementing her career as the greatest to ever play. Williams won the singles championships in both 2013 and 2014 using these very nets.
So who is most interested in owning a polyethylene length of Serena’s career? ”Somebody with a tennis court, who likes the idea of having the actual net that was used in the U.S. Open,” says Barry. These might be the best tennis nets in the world, but tennis court size is standardized these days, and these nets should fit on just about every court. Of course, not every court can let its players act out their fantasies of serving like Serena.
“*eBay and its affiliates have not independently verified the authenticity of the items discussed in this article, which are not part of eBay’s Authenticity Guaranteed program.”