In an era when segregation has become a household word and arguing point, tennis finds itself with a segregation problem of its own. How long must the professional tennis player be treated as an outlaw and barred from a role in the scheme of big-time tennis?
The problem is not a new one. But it is one which seems to erupt every few years, with no change in the official attitudes. And this year it has erupted again—more violently and more significantly than at any time since Big Bill Tilden made his vigorous—but unsuccessful—bid for an open tournament back in the middle 1930s. For today, at least seven of the 10 best active players in the world are pros, and the list is steadily growing.
Heading any sort of combined ranking of professionals and amateurs would be Pancho Gonzales, Frank Sedgman and Ken Rosewall. Then you would have to place Lew Hoad, Australia's fine amateur—but after him you would have to pick up the pros again, with Pancho Segura, Tony Trabert, Ken McGregor and Rex Hartwig. Well down the list would be such amateurs as Ham Richardson, Vic Seixas, Budge Patty, Ashley Cooper, Neale Fraser, Herbie Flam and Sam Giammalva.
The segregation of these two groups of tennis players—the best in the game—is a problem which has brought into sharp conflict the biggest policymaking tennis men of Australia, the most tennis-minded country in the world and the present home of the Davis Cup. Sir Norman Brookes, longtime president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia, who recently retired, has come out strong for mingling of the pros and amateurs. But Don Ferguson, who succeeded Sir Norman as president of the Australian Association, blasts the pros as a threat to amateur tennis and the Davis Cup, and urges amateur organizations to disdain them.
March 18, 1957
Sir Norman, a former Davis Cup player and for years one of the most influential spokesmen in the game, says: "The amateurs have nothing to fear from the pros. Their tournaments and the Davis Cup are firmly established. The pros have no organization. It's foolish to be afraid, and it's bad not to take in all of tennis, as they do in golf."
But Ferguson is among those who fear that the amateur would suffer in comparison with the pro. He believes that traditional tournaments, such as Wimbledon, Forest Hills, the Australian Nationals, and competition, such as the Davis Cup and Wightman Cup matches, would lose their stature. He has warned the state associations in his continent to freeze out the pros. "They'll kill our tennis and our Davis Cup," he maintains.
Ferguson backs up his arguments with statistics from the recent events at Melbourne, a city already drained of sports money by the Olympic Games. Against Ferguson's warnings, the Victorian Association rented Kooyong Stadium, Melbourne's Wimbledon, to Promoter Jack Kramer's troupe, featuring Pancho Gonzales and Ken Rosewall. The pros drew 8,000 and 10,000 fans. The Australian championships, hurt by the loss of Rosewall to pro ranks, suffered, with crowds sometimes as low as 800.
Open tennis is a problem so immediate that Renville McMann, progressive president of the United States Lawn Tennis Association, saw fit at the January convention in Chicago to set up a special committee (whose names, at this writing, have not yet been revealed) to study its various aspects. "This doesn't mean I am for open tennis," McMann stated. "I just think that, in view of the circumstances, it's time we take another cold, hard look at the whole matter. The committee will report to us in September, and we can kick the question around again then."
Down through the years—with one mild exception—there has been solid opposition from the men who run American tennis to lowering the bars for the pros.
In 1932, in the regime of Louis Carruthers, the USLTA went before the International Lawn Tennis Federation, the sport's world-governing body, with the suggestion that each country be permitted to set its own course of action in the matter of open tennis. It wasn't that the United States wanted open tennis necessarily; it was more a bid for "home rule." The move was beaten decisively.
In 1934 and 1935, when Merrill Hall was president of the USLTA, Tilden, who with Vincent Richards had left amateur tennis to make the pro tour, waged a strong campaign for an open tournament. He was the biggest name in tennis at the time, and his efforts almost succeeded. He was beaten by his own ambition and effrontery. "He wanted to run the tournament himself," Merrill Hall recalls, "and he demanded that the pros get half the proceeds. We turned him down cold."
Hall said he saw no reason for surrendering the dominant position of the USLTA, with all its rich history and organizational know-how, to a few pros so that they could line their pockets with more dollars.
"I thought then, and I think now, that professional tennis, if all the bars were removed, would be a threat to our big amateur tournaments and the Davis Cup."
Holcombe Ward, who is also a past USLTA president, enunciated the official viewpoint in 1946 when he said:
"The real reason for an open championship is to make money. Its purpose would be to draw large crowds of spectators, big gate receipts, big names, large cash prizes to be divided among professionals. Amateur officials would be expected to give their time to build up a new title of commercial value which the winner, if a professional, could capitalize on for personal profit by exhibition matches, radio talks, commercial endorsements and the like."
Ward's opposition was categorized as follows: 1) an open tournament would be inconsistent with the ideals of playing for the love of the game; 2) one open championship would lead to others "like a vicious spiral of inflation"; 3) there would be a double standard of expenses for pros and amateurs; 4) an open tournament would tax an already crowded schedule.
In 1955, James H. Bishop, another president, also took issue with the by now familiar query: "There is open golf, why not open tennis?" He said: "In open golf all players play the full three days, and they play against par for a score. No player can claim so many amateur scalps for his advertising belt with scores attached to show he mowed them down. One shouldn't mind shooting at a target for a score against a professional marksman. It would be quite different shooting at each other to see who gets eliminated."
In trying to work out the professional problem, other differences in the tennis and golf pictures become apparent.
Organization, for one. In golf, the pros have a strong ruling body of their own in the Professional Golfers Association, which works hand in glove with the U.S. Golf Association, the ruling body of the sport. The tennis pros have no working organization to speak of. In golf, amateurs are forbidden to receive expense money for tournaments. In tennis, amateurs are permitted expenses, and this has been an area for abuses which have drawn widespread criticism.
In golf, there was never a problem of mixing the pros and amateurs. They played together from the beginning. The British Open golf tournament started in 1860; the U.S. Open in 1895. The opens are conducted by the amateur organizations, the Royal and Ancient in Britain and the USGA in the United States.
Another aspect of the matter is that until recently the tennis pros were too few in number and with too little influence to make their voice heard. Not so today. The pros are strong, and speak with an increasingly strong voice. And it is interesting that one of the men championing open competition is one who would be most hurt by such a development—Promoter Jack Kramer. He acknowledges that an open championship probably would kill off the exhibition tours from which he has garnered such vast profits.
JUST THREE LOSERS
"I figure there are three men who wouldn't profit by an open championship," says Jack. "They would be the pro champion, in this case Gonzales; the amateur champion, who might lose prestige in a head-to-head clash with the pro champ; and, of course, the promoter, who would most likely be me.
"But I feel that tennis as a whole would benefit greatly. Open competition would raise the caliber of amateur tennis because it would give the amateur a chance to play against the best. It would arouse new interest generally and bring more youngsters into the game."
The problem definitely is with us and, like Renville McMann, I don't think we should run from it. We should stand up and face it. Personally, I am not horrified at the thought of the pros playing with the amateurs. I have seen the idea work well with golf and see no reason why it could not be translated—with careful planning—into tennis. It isn't an idea which calls for hasty, scatter-shot action. Serious study and solid groundwork must precede it.
In this spirit I would like to propose what I call "seven steps to open tennis." These procedures are detailed on the opposite page. In any merger both sides should benefit if the merger is to be a profitable one, and I believe that a merger along these lines will benefit the pros, the amateurs and the game itself.
In essence, the amateurs and pros must forget their old feuds and differences and work together for a better, fuller sport. I believe all the greats of tennis, either amateur or pro, belong to the game. Their aims may be different, but their ideals are the same. In assessing the problem, we need ask ourselves one question and one alone: "Is it for the good of the game?" I think it is.
7 STEPS TO OPEN PLAY
1 Publish and disseminate the report of Mr. McMann's committee to all USLTA bodies, requesting them to study and act upon it without prejudices.
2 Seek again a ruling from the International Federation for "home rule," which would give us the right to try an open tournament. Obviously, whereas the United States and Australia, with the preponderance of pro talent, may be ready for open competition, other countries, such as Britain, France or Italy, may not.
3 Give the idea of open tennis an exploratory test—conduct a "shakedown cruise." Set up one open championship to be conducted at Forest Hills. The tournament would be under the jurisdiction of the USLTA and there would be a firm limit of one tournament to prevent what Holcombe Ward described as the "vicious spiral of inflation." If the tournament proved a success, others might be added, as conditions permit—on clay, hardwood and hard court—but the matter must be left entirely to the USLTA, which can thus protect the sanctity of its heavy amateur schedule.
4 Leave open competition in other countries—Australia, England and France, for instance—entirely to those particular nations. Different countries have different problems.
5 Let the USLTA reorganize its administrative setup to deal with added responsibilities and to strengthen those it already holds. Establish an executive director, answerable to the USLTA directors, of course, but with broad powers for pushing and promoting the USLTA program and enforcing its codes.
6 Let the tennis pros strengthen their own organization and work through a central office in cooperation with the USLTA. The pro association, operating much on the order of the Professional Golfers Association, could conduct weekly or occasional pro tournaments, on the order of the PGA tour, with sponsors providing prize money. This long has been the aim of Jack Kramer. This would be out of the province of the USLTA. Amateurs would be allowed to compete in these open tournaments (not to be confused with the one big open championship) without loss of amateur standing. For the protection of the amateur program they should not be eligible for expenses, except in such tournaments as do not conflict with the scheduled amateur events. In those cases, the USLTA could authorize expenses. But naturally, amateurs would not be eligible for prize money.
7 Like the USGA in golf, the USLTA must be boss of the operation. It must hold the whip hand and be the policymaking and ruling body of all tennis in America. The pros' organization should deal with matters strictly within the pro province, with the USLTA holding full power in matters involving both pros and amateurs.