In an era when segregation has become a household word and arguing point, tennis finds itself with a segregation problem of its own. How long must the professional tennis player be treated as an outlaw and barred from a role in the scheme of big-time tennis?
The problem is not a new one. But it is one which seems to erupt every few years, with no change in the official attitudes. And this year it has erupted again—more violently and more significantly than at any time since Big Bill Tilden made his vigorous—but unsuccessful—bid for an open tournament back in the middle 1930s. For today, at least seven of the 10 best active players in the world are pros, and the list is steadily growing.
Heading any sort of combined ranking of professionals and amateurs would be Pancho Gonzales, Frank Sedgman and Ken Rosewall. Then you would have to place Lew Hoad, Australia's fine amateur—but after him you would have to pick up the pros again, with Pancho Segura, Tony Trabert, Ken McGregor and Rex Hartwig. Well down the list would be such amateurs as Ham Richardson, Vic Seixas, Budge Patty, Ashley Cooper, Neale Fraser, Herbie Flam and Sam Giammalva.
The segregation of these two groups of tennis players—the best in the game—is a problem which has brought into sharp conflict the biggest policymaking tennis men of Australia, the most tennis-minded country in the world and the present home of the Davis Cup. Sir Norman Brookes, longtime president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia, who recently retired, has come out strong for mingling of the pros and amateurs. But Don Ferguson, who succeeded Sir Norman as president of the Australian Association, blasts the pros as a threat to amateur tennis and the Davis Cup, and urges amateur organizations to disdain them.
Sir Norman, a former Davis Cup player and for years one of the most influential spokesmen in the game, says: "The amateurs have nothing to fear from the pros. Their tournaments and the Davis Cup are firmly established. The pros have no organization. It's foolish to be afraid, and it's bad not to take in all of tennis, as they do in golf."
But Ferguson is among those who fear that the amateur would suffer in comparison with the pro. He believes that traditional tournaments, such as Wimbledon, Forest Hills, the Australian Nationals, and competition, such as the Davis Cup and Wightman Cup matches, would lose their stature. He has warned the state associations in his continent to freeze out the pros. "They'll kill our tennis and our Davis Cup," he maintains.
Ferguson backs up his arguments with statistics from the recent events at Melbourne, a city already drained of sports money by the Olympic Games. Against Ferguson's warnings, the Victorian Association rented Kooyong Stadium, Melbourne's Wimbledon, to Promoter Jack Kramer's troupe, featuring Pancho Gonzales and Ken Rosewall. The pros drew 8,000 and 10,000 fans. The Australian championships, hurt by the loss of Rosewall to pro ranks, suffered, with crowds sometimes as low as 800.
Open tennis is a problem so immediate that Renville McMann, progressive president of the United States Lawn Tennis Association, saw fit at the January convention in Chicago to set up a special committee (whose names, at this writing, have not yet been revealed) to study its various aspects. "This doesn't mean I am for open tennis," McMann stated. "I just think that, in view of the circumstances, it's time we take another cold, hard look at the whole matter. The committee will report to us in September, and we can kick the question around again then."
Down through the years—with one mild exception—there has been solid opposition from the men who run American tennis to lowering the bars for the pros.
In 1932, in the regime of Louis Carruthers, the USLTA went before the International Lawn Tennis Federation, the sport's world-governing body, with the suggestion that each country be permitted to set its own course of action in the matter of open tennis. It wasn't that the United States wanted open tennis necessarily; it was more a bid for "home rule." The move was beaten decisively.