The tennis we enjoy today is called ‘Open Era’. We love to watch four Grand Slam tournaments- the US Open, Wimbledon, the Australian Open, and the French Open. Do you know, how this open format of tennis comes? Here we discuss the transformation phases of this sport to get the answer.
1. What Is Open Era in Tennis?
Today’s new era tennis tournaments, which we enjoy on our TV, are called ‘Open Era’ tennis.
Previously, tennis was divided into two categories Amateur and Professional.
- Only amateur players could play in prestigious tennis tournaments.
- It was only for name and fame, since they didn’t get any prize money.
- The tennis federation just provided them with the travel expenses.
On the other hand, professional tennis players were playing tours on behalf of a few private clubs and associations for some remunerations. However, they could not compete in any Grand slams. At that time, many talented players from the amateur segment transitioned to professional play.
In the year 1968, the situation turned around. The four Grand Slams entities announced that the amateur and professional players can compete with each other. Moreover, the winners would get prestigious prize money. This was a significant moment and a turning point in tennis history. The ‘Open Era’ of tennis began its coveted journey.
2. Tennis before Open Era
Tennis was divided into two groups, amateur and professional before the open era. Before that, the scenario was much different from now. We can segregate them into three phases.
2.1. The Early Phase of Tennis
After four years of the invention of lawn tennis, in 1877, The All-England Club in Wimbledon, London, Great Britain arranged the first Wimbledon Championship.
The US National Championship came after a few years, in 1881. After a long gap of ten years, in 1891, French Championship made its debut in this field. Lastly, the Australian Championship held its inaugural match in 1905.
At that time, only amateur players were playing these prestigious tournaments for the sake of the clubs to entertain and get fame. They were not earning any money. The hosting clubs were making a profit by arranging such tournaments.
2.2. The Middle Phase of Tennis – Pro Tours
In 1926, a storm threw in the tennis world when a US sports promoter Charles C. Pyle signed one of the amateur top players Suzanne Lenglen, for a professional American tour offering $50,000. Surprisingly, the championship got a large crowd with financial success.
After World War II, in early 1950, Pro Champion Jack Kramer started promoting pro tours and signed some renowned amateur stars like Lew Hoad, Frank Sedgman, Ken Rosewall, and Tony Trabert.
Thereafter, some professional pro tours took the stage of tennis at that time instead of low-earning of the players. Those are the Wembly Championships, the US Pro Tennis Championships, and the French Pro Championships.
2.3. Pre-Open Era Phase
On the eve of the Pro Era, the transitions of tennis players from amateur to professional became a trend. Some of them left tennis to earn a living and some were coming to professional only because of earning money to survive.
At this time, some famous male players like John Newcombe, Rod Laver, Tony Roche, and Roy Emerson and female players like Billie Jean King, Marie Browne, Sarah Cooke, and Mary Hardwich also transitioned to professional. Though the female contestants were getting fewer earnings than men, they didn’t leave tennis for their love of the sport.
3. Tennis after Open Era
In the open-era stage, lawn tennis has gone through various changes in the rules, infrastructures, patterns, and ethics of the game.
3.1. Positive Sides of Open Era in Tennis
When the four Grand Slams, the world’s most prestigious events, became open to all, a sweet fragrance of love, respect, financial security, and career spread around the heaven of tennis. The open era of tennis brought some new breeze and life to the game. The popularity of tennis began to be cherished.
Significantly, this was a broader step toward assimilating talented tennis players around the world irrespective of their origin. The open era shaped the face of current-era tennis and modernized it to make the game more acceptable to common people.
British Hard Court Championship was the first tournament of the open era. It was played at Bournemouth, England in April 1968. Following this, by the next month, French Open debuted the first Grand Slam tournament in the Open format. French tennis star Ken Roswall won both tournaments.
Moreover, the prize money for the championship got a huge hike. The first Wimbledon Open tournament was a grand event. They distributed about £26,150 as prize money which was a landmark in tennis history. The first Wimbledon men’s singles champion Rod Laver got £2000. At the same time, women’s singles champion Billi Jean King was awarded £750. Conversely, American tennis star Arthur Ashe earned $100,000 as a winner of the first US Open men’s singles title.
3.2. Formation of ATP for Men’s Tennis
The challenges of the open era came as the conflicts of three vital tennis organizations like National Tennis League (NTL), the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF), and World Championship Tennis (WCT).
Thereafter, in 1972, some leading tennis players gathered. They decided to create the Association of Tennis Professionals for Men under the leadership of Cliff Drysdale and Jack Kramer. In fact, ATP brought some positive changes in the game.
First and foremost ATP established a solid computerized infrastructure to keep the account of every player’s performance up to date. Moreover, they launched a global ranking system called ATP ranking. It was started on 23 August 1973. The next important thing they implemented was the seeding process to check the eligibility of a new entry in the game. Both the system is running successfully to date.
To date from its origin, ATP has successfully organized every tournament in the men’s arena. In Fact, it modernized the game to make it more popular worldwide. Every year ATP enormously exceeds its viewers and breaks its previous records. As per 2019 statistics, ATP achieved more than 4.8 million audiences attending on-site which was a record itself.
3.3. Formation of WTA for Women’s Tennis
As I have said, the women players were getting less prize money than the men playing in the same tournament. Therefore, the Federation considered them as back-benchers.
For the same reason, in September 1970 eight women tennis players united with the pioneer Billi Jean King. They formed a remarkable women’s team named ‘The Original 9’. Besides, they signed a $1 contract to play for a separate women’s tour, The Virginia Slim Series in Houston, Texas. World Tennis magazine publisher Gladys Heldman and his friend Joe Cullman III took this honest initiative.
Emphatically, the Virginia Slim Series manifested the women’s power in tennis and they proved it. Later, in 1973, more than 60 female tennis players arranged a meeting at Gloucester Hotel, London. Billi Jean King led that meeting to bring women’s tennis under one umbrella. It was just a week before Wimbledon and the result was the formation of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).
Concurrently, in the same year, prize money equality between men and women started first time at the US Open.
Now, in women’s professional tennis, WTA is the prime curator and sculptor. It ultimately changed the facet of the women’s section of the game. Consequently, we have so many renowned and favourite female tennis players, and their contribution to the game is undeniable.
3.4. Year-End Championships in Tennis
In the open era of tennis, some year-end championships (YEC) are very popular besides the four Grand Slams like Wimbledon, US Open, French Open, and Australian Open. Those YECs are:
- ITF Grand Prix – replaced by ‘ATP Tour’ in 1989
- ATP Finals – was held at various locations worldwide and on different courts
- World Championship Tennis (WCT) Finals – was held between 1971-89
- Grand Slam Cup (GSC) – arranged between 1990-99
- Masters – annual series of nine top-level championships in the men’s section
4. Open Era Records in Tennis
After commencing the open era in tennis, the association seriously keeps the records of every player. The world ranking is also a vital factor today. Now tennis fans worldwide love to keep records of their favorite players. Here are some records:
4.1. Top 5 Male Players with Most Singles Titles*
- Jimmy Connors (US) – 109
- Roger Federer (Switzerland) -103
- Novak Djokovic (Serbia)& Ivan Lendl ( Czechoslovakia) – 94 each
- Rafael Nadal (Spain) – 92
- John McEnroe (US) – 77
4.2. Top 5 Female Players with Most Singles Titles*
- Martina Navratilova (Czechoslovakia) – 167
- Chris Evert (US) – 157
- Steffi Graf (Germany) – 107
- Margaret Court (Australia) – 92
- Serena Williams (US) – 73
(*Match records are as of the 2023 Wimbledon Championships)
To conclude, the open era brings a lot more things to the world of tennis. We have discussed the vital pros and cons of new-age tennis tournaments.
What is the Open Era in tennis? I think, now you have the answer and its significance to the betterment of the overall sport.