the 64 nations of the International Lawn Tennis Federation will hold their
annual meeting in Luxembourg next month to vote on a British proposal to hold
open tennis—competition between amateurs and pros—at Wimbledon in 1968 and
1969. The delegates are certain to agree "that it is worth looking
into" but warn "that something like this can't be rushed" and
conclude "that a committee should be appointed to make a further study of
the situation." Then, unless lightning strikes, the delegates will reject
The U.S. will be
there, of course, voting a straight no all the way. Seven years ago, when the
ILTF took the first open-tennis vote in its long history, the U.S. was for it
(the proposal missed the necessary two-thirds majority by five votes), but
three years later the United States Lawn Tennis Association reversed itself and
that great immobile body has preferred to ignore the subject ever since.
Britain, France and Australia, strongest backers of the proposal. It also
dismays the U.S. delegate himself, Robert Kelleher, who is an unusual kind of
USLTA president—a progressive. While he has not campaigned for open play,
Kelleher hasn't allowed the matter to be ignored, as many of his fellow
officers would prefer. Through his influence a special meeting to reassess the
USLTA stand will be held in New York on June 13.
"I refuse to
be bound by a policy that hasn't been discussed formally in four years,"
says Kelleher, referring to the 1963 USLTA resolution (narrowly passed)
that the open proposal should be debated before it was decided how the USLTA
should vote. Accordingly, he polled 43 members of the USLTA Executive
Committee, inquiring whether they favored holding a hearing on the issue. Not a
vote, mind you, just a discussion of the subject. Unbelievably, Kelleher was
turned down 22-21, an indication of the 19th-century thinking in the world of
tennis. Upset, Kelleher persisted and finally got his meeting.
discussing it can't hurt," says Kelleher, "but you can't believe how
emotional some of these old goats can be when they discuss it."
forces fear that the pros would dominate the game and that the traditional
amateurs-only tournaments would lose their luster. "If the pros were
successful, not disorganized and struggling as they are now, there might be a
reason for joining with them," says one USLTA executive. "But right now
our tournaments outdraw theirs. Why cut them in?"
name the amateur golf champion?" Kelleher says, smiling. "That's what
somebody always says when I talk about an open. They're afraid the amateur game
would be submerged as it is in golf."
proposal for open tennis was made by Herman David, chairman of the All-England
Club ( Wimbledon), and it stems from a desire to make tennis an honest game.
David is well aware that the first-flight amateurs are, in fact, undeclared
professionals. This has been the system almost as long as the game has been
played. David and his fellow believers in wide-open play don't blame the
players for supporting themselves as well as they can nor are they ogres
seeking to reduce players' incomes. They feel that opens would destroy the
phony system, since tournaments would offer prize money rather than inflated
"expense payments." Top-ranked amateurs make few tournament appearances
for less than $1,000. But wouldn't they be inclined to shoot for the bundle in
an open that offered a $5,000 first prize?
Clark Graebner, a
member of the U.S. Davis Cup team, says, "If the important tournaments
became opens, and there was good prize money available, I'd turn pro."
Graebner now refuses professional offers because, like others of his class, he
doubts the pros' stability and finds subsidized life on the amateur circuit
more comfortable than the pro grind.