Six months from now I hope to be out of professional tennis—for good. The old dictator is giving up control. Does that sound impossible? Well, it's true. I've begun arrangements to turn over my professional tour operations to the International Professional Tennis Players Association, a group formed by the professionals themselves. Then I'll let the association do what I haven't been able to do—bring the pros and amateurs together for the good of the game.
Why am I getting out? Not because I've been losing money (though Lord knows pro tennis is no gold mine) but because I suddenly realized that my presence in professional tennis is actually retarding the development not only of professional tennis but of tennis as a whole. As long as I'm around, amateur officials all over the world can use me as their excuse for not going ahead with open tennis. "How can you be for open tennis," they've been asking each other, "when you know it will fall into the hands of Kramer?"
As a matter of fact, my intention has never been to take control of tennis, but simply to bring both factions of it together for their mutual benefit. Many of the amateur officials, however, have never believed this, so we've reached an impasse. There are other factors in my decision as well. One is the knowledge that the public will no longer pay to see the amateur champions when I add them to my troupe. I can't really blame them. Today's amateur champions, so-called, are simply not worth the money. They no longer have a chance to develop. Without the benefit of years of toughening competition, they are no match for the established pros and each year's new crop looks weaker and weaker.
Another trouble lies in the fact that the best amateurs are already making more money out of tennis than I could afford to pay them as pros. Take Laver and Emerson. They're doing so well that each of them wanted a two-year guarantee of $50,000 to turn pro. I know that neither of them could ever bring that much to the tour. Stacked up against the veterans, they'd finish each tournament right at the bottom and soon they'd be no gate attraction at all. At one point I thought of going as high as $40,000 apiece to get them, but I decided against it—and now I'm glad I did.
In any case, to sign up any more amateurs would only serve to prolong the stalemate that has arisen between the amateur associations and me. As long as the professional game is controlled by one man, the amateurs will be afraid to expand in the direction of open tennis. Now they'll have to find new reasons for not adopting open tennis.
Let me say that my decision to get out is no sigh of disenchantment with tennis in general or with pro tennis in particular. My affection for tennis is so great that 1 want it to prosper—with or without me. And I still feel that a strong pro game is essential to the growth of the sport as a whole. Professionals devoting their whole time to a game can reach a level of skill impossible to amateurs under the present setup. The professional game provides the kind of competition and heroes a sport needs to excite youngsters and make them want to participate themselves. What's more, it gives the best amateurs something to shoot for in the future. In other sports, turning professional at the top of an amateur career is a natural thing to do, but in tennis it's usually a step down. You step out of—not into—the limelight. Why can't you keep playing tennis and make an honest living at it too? There should be some goals in this game for the ambitious amateur besides silver trophies and the Davis Cup.
Two years ago, in my own living room, nine professional players and I formed the International Professional Tennis Players Association. The big vote on open tennis was coming up at the meeting of the International Lawn Tennis Federation in Paris the following month (SI, July 18, 1960). I was sure the open game would be approved, and I knew we'd need an organized body, rather than an individual, to deal effectively with the amateurs. My plan was to pull out of pro tennis gradually and let the association hammer out the details of open tennis.
But when open tennis failed to pass, 1 did my best to stick with my professional setup, trying to strengthen the pro game and keep my boys busy. I signed more players—Mike Davies, Robert Haillet, Kurt Nielsen, Luis Ayala, Barry MacKay and Butch Buchholz. I kept the tours going and even added some tournaments, because you have to promise competitive tennis as well as money to these young players. But it soon became clear to me that my pro tour could not thrive on its own without open championships.
I've set November first as the tentative date for me to step down. We could do it earlier, but the matches are booked under my own organization through the summer and it would be pretty complicated to straighten out the finances. Briefly, the association will function this way: it will have five elected directors, a paid executive director and maybe three secretaries spotted around the world. I hope the executive director will be Tony Trabert. Tony has worked for me for three years, and he's the type of good salesman the professional game needs. The association will be starting off with about $8,000 in the kitty. It will make money from dues, from the tour appearances of its players and from the Kramer Cup. The players will work for the association on the same contractual basis that they've been working for me. In my tours, 50% to 70% was taken off the top of the gross as the pros' share. Of this the players got about 15% apiece, plus a 7�% bonus if they won. When the association is running things each player will be expected to put up the same percentage of a deficit that he gets of the gate receipts. My slice will now go to the association, to promote tennis through schools, tournaments or however they want.