With the US Open underway, a look at end of 'shamateur' tennis

Michael K. Bohn, Tribune News Service on

Published in Tennis


At the annual ILTF meeting in July 1967, delegations from the U.S., UK, and Australia pushed for open tennis. But the smaller nations, fearing their players would be squeezed out by the pros, led the nay voters and defeated the proposal. The New York Times reported that Australia delegate John Young captured the silliness of the status quo: "We all know there are three kinds of tennis players -- amateurs, sham-amateurs and professionals."

Also during that summer, Austrian officials complained to the BLTA that British amateur player, Roger Taylor, didn't fulfill his "contract" to play in an Austrian tournament. BLTA members took that to mean Taylor had bolted in favor of a larger under-the-table payment elsewhere. That made it difficult for them to judge an "amateur" player, a feeling that prompted the Brits to take unilateral action.

Herman David decided to approach promoter Kramer for help in creating open tennis. Donald Dell, a pioneer in the business of sports marketing and a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, described David's action in a recent interview.

"David told Kramer that the All England Club would schedule a three-day pro tournament at its Wimbledon facility in August 1967 if Kramer supplied eight players." According to Dell, the event would occur three weeks after the 1967 Wimbledon Championships. "If your pros draw big crowds," Dell credits Davis saying to Kramer, "we'll open Wimbledon in 1968 regardless of what ILTF says. We'll just do it." Dell said that David was concerned that the best players in the world were not playing at Wimbledon.

"It was an absolute smash," Kramer wrote of the August Wimbledon event. "The BBC agreed to put up the singles purse of $35,000 ... and Wimbledon sprang for the doubles money of $10,000. This total made the tournament the largest purse-money event in history."

The matches sold out every day, a big step up from the regular amateur championship, which, according to Kramer, had been suffering declining TV ratings.

The last amateur-only, U.S. national championships occurred in August and September 1967 at two locations -- doubles at the Longwood Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill, MA, and singles at West Side in Forest Hills. Australian John Newcombe won the men's singles, and Billy Jean King, women's singles. Newcombe later told author Richard Evans that he "was clearing about $15,000 a year as the No. 1 amateur in the world at the time." He soon turned pro for far more money.

On Dec. 14, 1967, the British LTA voted to "open" the British Hard Court Championships in April 1968, as well as Wimbledon. (In the U.S. "hard court" refers to concrete or similar surfaces, but, in much of Europe, it was a clay court.) Richard Evans wrote that BLTA official Derek Penman said at the meeting the UK needed an open Wimbledon to "remove the sham and hypocrisy from the game." He added that the players "should be able to earn openly and honestly the rewards to which their skill entitles them."

The USLTA, at its annual meeting in February 1968, voted to follow the British lead and support open tennis. The association president, Robert Kelleher, spoke forcefully for the proposal, according to Evans, and criticized the ILTF: "You have failed to promulgate and enforce realistic and practical amateur rules."


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