If the World Series were to be played amid the general knowledge that the game's best players were busy elsewhere and that those on the field were about to retire, pro baseball would be roughly comparable to amateur tennis on the eve of the Davis Cup Challenge Round. Yet this week the powers that control amateur tennis seemed less disposed than they were even a year ago to recognize the threat facing their game. Long before last summer's annual meeting of the International Lawn Tennis Association, Professional Promoter Jack Kramer's jaunty raids had split tennis into two unprofitable camps, neither of which could long survive alone. On the one side there was a platoon of champion players with no championships to play for, on the other a host of championship titles with no proper champions to try for them.
Even the panjandrums of the amateur tennis federations recognized the folly of this arrangement and made plans to do something about it. So last July at the annual meeting in Paris they put the matter of permitting open tennis to a vote—and it lost.
Although this verdict came as a surprise even to most of the delegates at the international convention, it seemed at first no more than a technical, and very temporary, setback. It was engineered, everybody said, by a few timid minor nations, against the express wishes of the ILTA's "Security Council"—Australia, the U.S., Britain and France—and it flew in the face of all the considerations that had finally driven the major powers to abandon their own deep-seated, parochial fears of the professional. Immediately after the vote U.S. Delegate Harold Lebair, a 71-year-old newspaper ad salesman and treasurer of the USLTA, felt called upon to assure the disappointed U.S. public that "its delegates not only voted for the open but did their utmost to have it passed."
Today, less than six months after the Paris meeting, the likelihood of professionals playing with amateurs has suddenly become as remote as it was a decade ago. In Australia, LTAA President Donald Ferguson has been succeeded by Melbourne Businessman Norman Strange, 68, who is an ardent devotee of the short view. "We have been getting on very well as we are," Strange says airily. "I will have to cast my vote against open tennis."
Southern California's Perry Jones, head of the U.S. body's Open Tennis Committee, has turned chilly to both Kramer and the open. And Harold Lebair, who stood up so straight to be counted in favor of the open last July, is now just as firmly on the record in opposition.
What caused the flip-flop? A small part of the answer—one that amateur officials have seized on with cabalistic intensity—is that Jack Kramer grew tired of waiting. Disgusted at the vacillations of the amateurs, he set about making his own plan for the future, the first part of which was to step up, not curtail, the recruiting of amateurs. Earl Buchholz and Barry MacKay are already as good as signed, as are two European second-liners, Andres Gimeno of Spain and Michael Davies of Britain. Kramer has also offered to make an honest pro out of the world's most candid amateur, Nicola ("I never move for less than $400 a week") Pietrangeli, although the Italian may yet accept the urging of his home amateur federation to remain in the same tax bracket for another year. If Kramer has not even approached Aussies Neale Fraser and Rod Laver it is only because (as his Australian manager puts it), "We're already loaded with Aussie players, and they're all better than Laver and Fraser."
When last summer's vote convinced him that neither Wimbledon nor Forest Hills was about to become available to the professionals, Jack Kramer realized that they must set about creating their own tradition. In the fall, at Kramer's instigation, the pros in his stable formed themselves into an International Professional Tennis Players' Association. Its first act was the establishment of the Kramer Cup, a pro version of the Davis Cup. "We feel," says Jack in justification, "that the time has come to dignify our own form of the sport."
Little blue badges
From a common-sense point of view, such maneuvers seem little more than justified self-protection on the part of the pros, but the old men of amateurism insisted on viewing them as the betrayal of a sacred trust. "These hostile maneuvers on Kramer's part are most unfortunate, particularly at a time when he is seeking our cooperation," sniffed Australia's Strange, who had made it quite clear that he was offering no cooperation whatever. "Now," huffed Harold Lebair, "the old guard and some of the younger members as well are twice as firm against Kramer. Most nations are so angry at him that they're seeing red."
What really angers and frustrates the old guard is, perhaps, less Kramer than the ineluctable trend of the times and the prospect of losing control over an institution they cherish as sincerely as President William McKinley cherished Republicanism. As one disenchanted former national champion put it, "They're all nice guys and some of them have worked hard as hell for the game, but they don't know a damn thing about tennis except that it allows them to parade around the marquee at Forest Hills wearing their little blue badges."