54 THE SATURDAY EVENING POST April '76 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TENNIS: NET RESULT Pro tennis is big-league stuff today. And the man who wrapped up the champions, the prize money that they earn, and the fans who now crowd the grandstands all over the world tells how the package was put together. Today, World Championship Tennis is a vibrant, robust entity in professional tennis. But it wasn't always that way. When we played our first U.S. tournament in 1968, attendance was so poor that the players appeared to outnumber the spectators. I remember thinking, "Things can't go on like this." And they didn't. They got worse. At that time, the amateur officials were accusing WCT of trying to make money out of tennis. Actually, making money was not an issue. It would have been a miracle. In 1976 there will be WCT tournaments throughout the world with tour stops scheduled for twelve countries. Seven years ago our first tour was, by comparison, a vigorous limp around a circuit of less than eleven cities where our eight players were seen in action by a few thousand spectators as they fought to earn the most they could of the $300,000 in prize money. Today, this season's ticket buyers will be over 850,000, and more than 100 million viewers will watch the world's top-ranked professionals battling for record prize money during the WCT events scheduled for NBC-TV. Prize money for the 1976 WCT schedule will be about $2.5 million. It is entirely possible that one player could earn over $500,000 during WCT's January-through- May season. And it has been estimated that WCT champion Arthur Ashe's 1975 income exceeded one million dollars. - It is a fact that WCT has progressed rapidly and moved into world focus since its quiet beginning. (Our first U.S. tournament was in Kansas City in February 1968.) It's truly not immodest to say so because after our start the only available direction was up. Getting back to that initial tournament, the indoor stadium had a locker room next to the cattle yards. The court was laid over the ice rink, and Dennis Ralston almost broke a leg sliding twenty feet on the ice as he tried to chase a lob. It makes me think of an earlier era in tennis and By Lamar Hunt conditions described in a superb new novel, World Class, in which the players had to rent locker room towels "for a nickel each—or go stand in a strong wind." Richard Evans, then with the London Evening News, remembers: "The color of John Newcombe's shorts could best be described as rust, and Roger Taylor's shirt was fireman's red. Colors had never been seen on a tennis court before, and after that introduction it was lucky they ever were again. record crowds watch WCT events in sites throughout the world. Many of today's arenas are built with professional tennis in mind. They include heated locker rooms with carpeted floors, which enable the players to walk onto the court with warm bodies. The result is fewer pulled muscles than in the past and a better quality of play than was possible when pro tennis was played in high school gyms which had unheated locker rooms. The warm-up period was simply not long enough to permit the players' bodies to reach their needed elasticity. Also, many of the locker rooms on the WCT tour are equipped with saunas and whirlpool baths, so that after a match in which a player has run nearly five miles, he can repair some of the damage done to his body. We used to hire a local masseur in each city on the WCT circuit. That was logical economy in that we did not have the overhead of hotels and transportation. But today, WCT trainers travel the world as part of the tour, keeping case histories on each player's medical problems. With that knowledge of precisely where a given player tends to damage himself, his trainer can get right to it and possibly prevent injury and soreness from overplaying cramps. These days we play on a specially designed surface for WCT—Supreme Court. These slower courts mean the points last longer and satisfy the spectators. But longer points mean a lot more running and when Rod Laver finishes a match, he is in pain. In his case it's not just the age fact but the jerky style of his game which punishes his body. Tom Okker's desire to play so much tennis and pile up prize money while he still can makes him another medical history our trainers watch attentively. But age and heavy playing schedules are not the only factors. WCT's younger stars, such as Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas, need an expert rub as well as anyone because even with the tie-breaker system, the slower courts have caused 6-2, 6-2 The glistening Avis Challenge cup represents $320,000 in prize money, $1 "A few hundred bemused spectators were on hand that week to witness the less than earth-shattering introduction to the sporting scene of a group calling itself `The Handsome Eight.' " Anyone who watched that forgettable debut would be hard pressed to compare it to today's highly competitive WCT circuit. Today, tennis players wear colors worldwide and no one even thinks to mention it. In fact, colors are mandatory on the WCT circuit because they serve the television viewer for instantaneous player identification. WCT has a fine system if players fail to go on court wearing colored clothing, and they must be the correct colors. In the early days of WCT telecasts, there were incidents of opposing players appearing on court in the same color clothing. The arenas are the finest in the world; 80,000 for the winner.
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