"There is no magic formula, no black box you can push to make a tournament successful," Williams said. "It's largely a matter of hard work and attention to detail. As I understand it, there were two basic problems at Forest Hills. The first was a lack of organization." Williams took care of that by quickly establishing a benevolent dictatorship, and as such he is able to give quick and irrevocable decisions on everything from the problems of the West Side club's sundeck committee to the touchy question of seedings.
"The second problem," Williams continued, "was—is—the matter of facilities. Mike Gibson took one look at the place and said, 'My God. I can't believe it.' Forest Hills is simply a disgrace to the American public. The U.S. Open championships represent American tennis. Period. If they are successful, it does more for the game than a dozen million-dollar promotional gimmicks."
Williams first concentrated his energies on the creation of the U.S. Open Club, a recently finished private club beneath the stadium available to a limited membership for a stiff but not unreasonable fee. It has one-way glass looking out onto the Stadium courts and will serve lunch and dinner. The Open Club was just a beginning. Box seats have been increased from 426 to 816, creature comforts—such as rest rooms—are being added, a $167,000 electric scoreboard, courtesy of Philip Morris, is ready, and there is even some wild talk that part of the Open gate receipts will be plowed back into the Forest Hills facilities, a basic consideration which for unknown reasons hasn't been seriously considered before. Cullman has arranged for a five-year television contract with CBS at $100,000 per year, or twice the 1968 figure. A consolation tournament using the latest version of the James Van Alen Simplified Scoring System will be held and will be worth $12,000 (courtesy of Van Alen), raising the total tournament prize money to $137,000, and it is rumored West Side members will even watch the matches. Charlie Tucker, West Side president, said, "I'll probably have my head handed to me on a silver platter, but I don't believe members should be allowed to play after 12 noon [the tournament's daily starting time]."
And, most important, advance sales for the tournament at one stage in early August were running nearly three times ahead of last year's comparable figures, thanks to frequent stiff-arming of New York-area corporations, some of whom probably don't know Rod Laver from David Rockefeller, and a dozen promotion efforts involving everybody from United Nations Secretary General U Thant to Tennis Fashion Designer Teddy Tinling.
Still, there are problems. The first object of any promoter is to fill the house, and the cheapest ticket at Forest Hills, for a student 18 years old or younger, is $2, or about twice what it should be. For a variety of reasons, there is no large tennis audience in the New York area, despite its tremendous population, such as there is, for example, in England (and, thanks to Williams, South Africa). At Williams' first press conference last May he indicated his tournament attendance goal was 300,000. Now, nearly four months later, he says he will be satisfied with half that.
Second, there is a small but significant faction within the USLTA and the West Side club that would dearly love to see Williams, and pro tennis, crash and burn. For the moment this group is quiet, thanks in a large part to Alastair Martin, but if the tournament is not a reasonable success the gloating from within will start shortly after the last ball is struck on Sept. 7.
Third, Williams is a white South African, and a rich one as well. His politics, liberal in South African terms, are slightly to the right in the American spectrum. This does not, for instance, bother Arthur Ashe, a Negro, but it does bother one Mark Jones of Chicago, an associate judge of the Cook County Circuit Court and a minor member of a minor USLTA committee. Shortly after Williams' appointment, Jones fired off a stinging letter to Cullman that said, in part, "I've noted, with concern and distress...your selection of Owen Williams to be Tournament Director for this year's U.S. Open Tennis Tournament...."
Cullman answered Jones, in part, "My objective in obtaining the services of Owen Williams as Tournament Director was to get the most competent tennis promoter in the world. Owen Williams is that."
So things have not been easy for Williams, which is just fine with him. "I happen to think I'm good enough to get the job done," Williams says. "The only regret I have is that this whole thing has interfered with my social life."