1976_04_01--120_SP - Page 1

1976_04_01_SP-World_Championship_Tennis-Net_Result

120 THE SATURDAY EVENING POST April '76 HAZEL "Spring fever?" continued from page 111 most importantly of all—credibility. It was an ambitious, but workable idea. We discussed it for about four hours, and once we agreed we were committed to the first World Championship of Tennis competition. It was announced at Forest Hills in September 1970 and was quickly tagged the Million Dollar Tour. In the meantime, we had been seeking out cities, signing up players and going about the many mechanics of organizing ourselves to operate a business throughout the world. The first WCT tournament under our new format was played in February 1971 in Philadelphia. That tournament has now evolved into the U.S. Pro Indoor Championships, a successful event that is the best attended indoor tournament in the world. In that first year there were problems just like any a new concept might find in the business world. Originally, we had planned to hold the WCT Finals in New York, but that didn't work out. We ended up playing the first split Finals in Houston and Dallas; now, the WCT Finals in Dallas play to over 90 percent capacity each year. The eight qualifiers for the 1971 Finals were Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Tom Okker, Bob Lutz, John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe, Cliff Drysdale and Marty Riessen. It ended up with Laver and Rosewall playing for the championship in Dallas on November 26—the day after Thanksgiving. Rosewall beat Laver in four sets before 8,000 people in an arena that was virtually sold out. The WCT Finals had found a home in Dallas, and each May we have record crowds. Two years ago, the response was so great that standing-room-only tickets were sold to the title match. The same thing happened in 1975—another milestone for pro tennis. While 1971 was successful in terms of the competition and response throughout the world, WCT was facing two problems for the following year. Television was a necessity for success. Meanwhile, WC's players had been banned from all I.L.T.F. events, so WCT had to provide events that were restricted to its players. Television had shown very little interest in pro tennis in the past. Usually, Wimbledon had been about the only major tournament shown on a regular basis. WCT had approached the networks and NBC had in 1971 shown some enthusiasm. But to make the television package a reality, WCT agreed to the unique approach of going out and selling commercial television to advertising sponsors. It was a major undertaking, but the commercial time was sold and NBC agreed to full network coverage of WCT, beginning in 1972. That was a major step forward; for the first time, network television would be presenting pro tennis on a regular basis. WCT revised its plans and played a combined 1971-72 season, so that our Finals would be held in May. The winter and spring was the ideal time for television, since pro football was over, baseball hadn't really got started, and sports television competition was generally less in this time period. The last ten tournaments of 1971 were counted in the point standings, and these, plus the ten played in 1972, were the twenty qualifying events. Again, the same eight players qualified for the WCT Finals, and once more it was Rosewall and Laver in the decisive match for the $50,000 first prize. More than 21 million Americans watched via TV—a match which many have called the greatest tennis match of all time. Rosewall finally won in five sets, but it took over three and one-half hours. To this day, WCT still has more requests for its 1972 Highlights film, which features this match, than for any of its other films of title matches. In the first WCT competition, events were played in nine countries on four continents. That spring of 1972, WCT and the I.L.T.F. signed the peace agreement which settled the problems that existed, and by 1973, WCT was looking at the idea of expanding its field of players from the original thirty-two. Part of the settlement was that WCT would no longer sign players to contracts that guaranteed their earnings. Instead, the players were invited and committed to play WCT on a prizemoney only basis. In 1973, WCT expanded to two groups of players, increasing its field to sixty-four men. The following year, WCT went to eighty-four competitors in three groups—Red, Blue and Green. It followed the same format in 1975 with eighty-four players, but this year, a quality contraction has been made so there are fiftyfour players competing in one overall group. WCT has enjoyed good relationships with commercial sponsors throughout the world. In 1974, the Haggar Company agreed to set up a bonus system for WCT players. Haggar is the world's largest manufacturer of men's slacks. It established the Haggar Slacks Scoreboard in which the players compete each week for Haggar points. The eight players with the most Haggar points qualify for the WCT Finals in Dallas. Two years ago, John Newcombe won the season-long race for the most Haggar points. He was presented $25,000 in one-dollar bills—a real bundle. Last year, Arthur Ashe took the top prize, which was given in the form of a twenty-four-carat, solid gold, thirteen-pound tennis ball. It was valued at $33,333 and was the first such award ever created. Both years, the winners of the Haggar Scoreboard—Newcombe and Ashewent on to win the WCT title ,in Dallas. Last fall, because of the popularity of challenge matches, WCT announced the Avis Challenge Cup series that is currently being played in Hawaii. Avis is the major sponsor, in cooperation with United Airlines and Aloha Airlines. Rosewall, Laver, Newcombe, Borg, Ramirez, Alexander, Nastase and Ashe are playing in this series. Every match is a true winner-take-all with the undefeated winner of the entire series to receive $180,000 plus the first Avis Cup. WCT took this concept to NBC-TV, and the network was quite excited about the possibility of showing such outstanding stars in the head-to-head matches each Sunday afternoon, starting February 15 and running through May 23. This is a true challenge, in that the winners receive prize money and the losers don't get a penny—not even their expenses. WCT is continuing to put on tournaments around the world, and this year is going into several new cities. For example, a major WCT event is to be played in Lagos, Nigeria, which is a first for WCT and pro tennis. For the first time, R.J. Reynolds is getting involved in pro tennis with WCT. It is sponsoring a doubles bonus program where the top doubles teams in the world qualify for extra earnings. WCT has always endeavored to be a leader in such new areas. In 1973, WCT put on the first World Doubles Championship. We kiddingly refer to this as the "Norma Memorial Championship" because my wife, Norma, actually thought up the idea. The winning team receives $40,000, which is the highest doubles prize money in the history of tennis. While WCT may be an important entity in pro tennis, it is not complacent nor resting on its past achievements. Not as long as Mike Davies keeps smiling. Under Mike's capable leadership, WCT will continue to expand its directions and move forward to try to help build professional tennis into a bigger factor in the world of sport. When WCT began, less than a decade ago, nine million Americans played tennis. Neilsen reports now tell us that thirty-four million Americans have taken up the sport. This growth is truly one of the phenomena of this sports-crazy world. An example of that growth and its tangible meaning to the great young athletes who play the game occurred a few years ago. When the first of the Las Vegas challenge matches was announced, Mike was in a meeting with Al and me. "A hundred thousand dollars for a single match," he mused, reflecting, "when I was a pro, I played a thousand matches for a hundred dollars apiece." At first, it occurred to me that it was only human for a once fine player to mull over having been born a few years too soon and having been in the right place but at the wrong time, financially. But Mike's not one to spend much time thinking about the past, so I suspected that he was concerned for WCT and its need to keep up with the ball WCT had started rolling. Sure enough, Mike began smiling. . .


1976_04_01_SP-World_Championship_Tennis-Net_Result
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