Suppose you were a young man of 25, just starting in business, and someone offered you $50,000 to $80,000 simply to play a couple of hours of tennis a few times a week? Would you take it?
This is the problem which for the last few weeks has been facing Tony Trabert, acclaimed the world's best amateur tennis player after his sweep of the Wimbledon, French and United States championships. Jack Kramer, the enterprising professional promoter, has made Tony a definite offer. The flat guarantee has been variously placed at between $50,000 and $80,000, with an added percentage of the profits.
Trabert must decide soon. Kramer's tour, if it is to be effective, must open in the late fall, not only to catch the crowds of the winter's indoor season, but also for tax reasons—the Bureau of Internal Revenue takes its own healthy slice on each calendar year. And as his period of indecision grows increasingly tense, Trabert has been receiving a lot of well-intentioned advice, both pro and con.
The immediate impulse, particularly of the hard-shelled realists, is to tell Tony: "Take it while the taking's good." But the decision is much more complicated than that. Turning professional is a move which is bound to affect a man's entire life.
October 9, 1955
Men devoted to American tennis, the officials of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, naturally feel Tony would be making a mistake to turn pro. Their sentiments are not entirely selfish. They have seen a long line of top players take the mercenary road, regret it when the glitter fades and then request a return to amateur status.
Trabert's ears must also be ringing from the advice of the nonsentimentalists: "You owe nothing to tennis. Look out for No. 1."
Kramer's big professional purse certainly is tempting. It's a chance, as the saying goes, to make a "quick kill." It's a chance which comes to few men and, to Trabert, maybe only once in a lifetime. But there is more to it than just reaching out and grabbing the brass—or in this case, gold—ring, then living happily ever after.
The career of the touring professional is a short, if lucrative, one. One year, two at the most. After that, what? This is the question Tony must ask himself.
In turning pro, Trabert would cut off all his ties with the game which spawned and nurtured his brilliant career. There is no coming back. He is, in effect, a tennis "outlaw," unwanted and untouchable in the eyes of the amateurs.
But there are issues also in Trabert's dilemma which are much bigger than Tony himself. The present situation spotlights a problem of increasing urgency for American tennis—the problem of being able to field a constantly winning Davis Cup team from the top ranks of players which are just as constantly being decimated by defections to the professional tours.
THE LURE OF READY GOLD
Since Big Bill Tilden first popularized one-night tennis stands around the country, America's best players have fallen easy prey to the lure of ready gold. As soon as a player established himself as the undisputed champion, the offers came, and into the pro ranks he went. This happened, after Tilden, with Ellsworth Vines, Donald Budge, Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer and Pancho Gonzales, in that order. The U.S. found itself constantly having to plug up these holes with fresh, untried material which, in turn, might go to the pros in the end. For as modern air travel with overnight hops to Europe and other places made professional tennis a world-wide rather than a strictly domestic show, more and more money poured into the coffers to attract desirable talent.
Thus Tony Trabert has broader issues above and beyond his own personal dilemma to consider. In his present situation, having gone into business, he has a business plus a sport. He cannot make as much money immediately, but he would stand to make up for that over a 10-year span. In turning pro, he would have a sports business; and his future career, after today's headlines are forgotten, would be a matter of speculation.
It is a real problem, and a tough decision. Those of us who have the welfare of tennis at heart, and a real respect for Tony Trabert, can only wish him the best of luck and hope his choice is a good one.