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Delegates from 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 proposal.
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.
This dismays 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) opposing opens.
Kelleher felt 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.
"Just 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."
The anti-open 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?"
"Can anybody 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."
The latest 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.