Tennis loves to put its head under the guillotine. Just when the game seemed to be entering an era of increased popularity, thanks largely to the long overdue approval of open play, up pops a new lethal situation. Guarantees. Or, if you will, management fees. It seems the pros, both contract and independent, are unwilling to play in open tournaments for prize money alone and that, just like the days of the old amateur tournaments, they want something extra. The alternative, they say, is the boycott; that is, no Rod Laver at Forest Hills or anybody else you ever heard of, either.
In a way, you can't blame the pro promoters for their stand. At the first U.S. Open at Forest Hills two years ago the contract pros showed up for nothing and took a financial beating. Last year the USLTA reluctantly paid out more than $100,000 in guarantees, but it decided to forgo any such payments in 1970. That's when the pros threatened not to show. Lest anyone think they are bluffing, George MacCall's group is not going to the Australian Open this month, even though it means Rod Laver will be unable to defend the first leg of his Grand Slam.
To talk the game in off the ledge, a secret meeting was held last week in New York in the office of Joe Cullman, chairman of the U.S. Open. Gathered together for the first time in a negotiating mood were the leading administrators and operators of the game, amateur and pro. "The alternative was warfare," said USLTA President Ala-stair Martin, a determined progressive in sheepish amateur clothing who wisely rounded up Mike Davies of Lamar Hunt's World Championship Tennis; MacCall and Fred Podesta of the National Tennis League; Bill Talbert, director of the U.S. Open; Bob Malaga of the USLTA; Gladys Heldman, the influential publisher of World Tennis magazine (who was representing women's tennis); ex-promoter Jack Kramer, still a force; and, finally, deposed Davis Cup Captain Donald Dell, Gene Scott and Bill Riordan, who act as agents for various independent pros. (Though he resigned under pressure from Martin last week, Dell remains a power in charge of his own pro group—Ashe, Smith, Lutz, Pasarell, Hoad, Franulovic. Dell's successor as cup captain will be a St. Petersburg lawyer, Ed Turville.) Absent was Lamar Hunt, whose bank account prompted another millionaire, Martin, to make an approach by the amateurs to the pros. Hunt was at the Super Bowl with his Kansas City Chiefs, but he has made it clear this his pride, as well as money, is involved in tennis—just as it was in the AFL. Although several of Martin's advisers suggested that Hunt would disappear if ignored or fought, Martin decided that if Hunt could be too much for the NFL, he would certainly be too much for the USLTA. Therefore Martin took the trouble to talk with Hunt privately in a prelude to last week's summit gathering in order to hear Hunt's views.
At the meeting itself Talbert and Martin proposed a formula of paying fixed expenses to the top 50 players of the world, to be ranked by MacCall, Scott, Dell, Davies and Riordan. The independent players would keep their money individually, while the contract pros would turn theirs over to the boss. "Before we agree we'll have to see how it projects and compares with the fees we need," said Mike Davies. The measure, which will not cost the USLTA nearly as much as last year, is, in Martin's words, "admittedly only a stopgap for a year or so." In tennis' interest, the ideal would be for the promoters to rewrite contracts with their players, becoming agents or sponsors and taking a slice of their prize money. Then tennis would parallel golf. Old pro Jack Kramer was on the amateurs' side this time and was "disappointed the USLTA gave in to the promoters." But Alastair Martin hoped his proposal would "keep everybody happy." He didn't relish being president the year the guillotine drops.