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Silver King in the Golden Age 12/14/2006 - 3:02 PM

I was going to write Lindsay Davenport for my blog over at ESPN, but at the last minute my buddy over there, the consummately professional Keith Hawkins, asked me if I could write about Lamar Hunt. who died early this morning in Dallas. My post should be up at ESPN soon. Meanwhile, here's a comprehensive obit that ought to give you a sense of Hunt's pervasive influence on the sporting landscape. And now for some additional thoughts on Hunt.

I got to know Lamar reasonably well over the years; he was the kind of guy who remembered your name and returned your calls. I don't think I ever saw him in anything but a perfectly fine but utterly plain dark suit, white shirt, and solid tie (no canary yellow or bright red power neck wear for this hombre!). He was borderline monk-ish, with his thinning dark hair and fastidious ways. He could have been the model for a sociology text with some high-falutin' title: The Corporate Disciple (although, as a fabulously wealthy individual, he was anything but a cog in someone else's machine), or, if the folks who came up with those titles ever wanted to leaven things with a little humor: Man Or Machine. Who Cares Anyway?

HuntHunt was incredibly disciplined in everything he did, and his genius, as it was reflected in tennis, was for organization. Long before "branding" became a buzzword, he had a branding vision for tennis, traveling under the name World Championship Tennis. Readers of my age may remember as vividly as I do the utterly professional, compelling broadcasts of WCT events.

Something must have made a pretty big impression for me, for I still vividly remember scenes like that of a helicopter hovering over a court somewhere in Florida (Boca Raton), the whirring blades drying off the gray Har-Tru, while Cliff Drysdale, in tighty-whitey shorts and wearing a pristine white golf glove on his right hand, patiently stood by, waiting to play the final.

WCT featured a pretty slick logo, it had a deal with - I believe - Supreme Court for uniformity at its many indoor tournaments, and at one point there was talk of the players all having to wear some kind of uniform, to emphasize the continuity and the WCT brand identity.

In short, WCT wanted to project the image that it was the only tennis tour that mattered, and unlike World Team Tennis, which came along much later, it did not aggressively challenge the Grand Slams by scheduling tournaments during the major Spring and Summer national championships (the French and U.S. Opens and Wimbledon).

Lamar's genius, as it was expressed in tennis, was his overarching vision. He was the ultimate system-maker and organizer. Looking to the model he helped create for the NFL, he wanted to move into the frontier of Open tennis with something more than vague ideas of promoting a tournament here or there. He aspired to creating a template for the pro game.

The icons and pioneers of the pro game rushed enthusiastically to embrace Hunt's vision, and that says a lot about a number of things, including Hunt's confidence in the game as a viable, professional enterprise, and the degree to which the men now positioned to create a new sport from nothing found his approach viable. New sports enterprises often have trouble luring big talent; in soccer, the North American Soccer League (started at around the same time as WCT) hoped that lavishing millions on Pele, even though it meant surrounding him with bit players, would swing the tide. But in tennis, the talent was there, ready and willing to go.

Hunt loved football, and were he not a Texan, the history of the game might have been written differently. But Texans have a natural affinity for Australians, and Hunt had deep admiration and affection for the likes of Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, and John Newcombe. When it was time to create his tour in 1968, he put together a formidable line-up of international players known as The Handsome Eight. In addition to those three icons, the group included fellow Aussie Tony Roche, South Africa's Drysdale, Dennis Ralston and Butch Buchholz of the U.S., Nikki Pilic of Yugoslavia, Pierre Barthes of France, and Roger Taylor of Great Britain.

The tour was a smash hit from the start, and WCT's annual, year-end playoff for the top qualifiers, the WCT Finals, quickly became an event that rivaled the Grand Slams in prestige and visibility. The high-water mark was the 1972 WCT Finals championship match, in which Laver and Rosewall created an epic that takes a prominent place on everyone's list of GMAT. It attracted 21 million viewers and, almost immediately, tennis was transformed from a blip to a blimp on the sports radar.

Owing to the Hunts clout and status in Dallas, the Finals also became an annual Event on the social calendar. The Finals was played in Moody Coliseum on the SMU campus, where roughly 7500 perched in seats on the almost comically steep sides of an arena that had great sight lines and a terrific atmosphere of intimacy. The feeling was electric, the lighting superb. And then there were the post-match parties. . .

*Sighs*

The WCT tour was a success from the start. So much so, that it soon split up into various groups, coded by color (there's that instinct for organization again; the color-coding remained a staple of round-robin events for years, until some genius had the bright idea to name the groups for players instead, as in the Laver or Rosewall group). These groups played mini-circuits, mostly in Europe and the U.S., and then convened again in Dallas for the Finals.

WctBut while all this was going on, forces that feared that Hunt would corner the pro tennis market (much like his family at one point tried to corner the world silver market - let it never be said that the Hunt's don't think outside the jewelry box!) aligned against him.

The International Tennis Federation and its affiliates - the entities, like the USTA, that govern and largely control the direction of the sport, both at the amateur level  and upper echelon of the pro game - understood that a tennis league as well-run, lean and professionally administered as WCT (the tour had a commissioner in the late Mike Davies; no further comment required), operating independent of the traditional ITF-supported tournament circuit, was a long-range threat.

It didn't exactly help that the next wave of pros, led by Jimmy Connors, had nothing like the sense of loyalty shown by Laver, Rosewall, et al.

Faced with the opportunity to slip into a pre-existing WCT system or work the open market for all it was worth, increasing numbers of players chose the latter.

In this, they were abetted by managers, agents and tournament promoters who all wanted to take part in the commercial feeding frenzy known as the tennis boom. This played nicely into the hands of the ITF, to whom a de-centralized game consisting of independent operators who would pose no threat to the Grand Slam pecking order amounted to a nice preservation of the status quo.

WCT soldiered on, it lasted for a surprising 23 years - although it was a shadow of its former self for many of those final years. In the beginning, WCT was the players tour, but over time, and facing manifold opportunities for short-term gain, the players formed their union (the ATP), further relegating WCT to a role as just another opportunity provider, rather than the preferred vehicle for delivering year-round pro tennis to a worldwide audience.

In the big picture, the struggle to impose a template on the game of tennis failed. It helps explain why we have a chaotic, overcrowded, sometimes illogical calendar. In straying from the WCT model, the game essentially opted to remain a free-market enterprise, complete with the opportunity, chaos, instability, perplexity and complexity that comes with the territory. Maybe we're better off, maybe not. The only things I know for certain are that cornering the tennis market proved easily as daunting a task as cornering the silver market, and that it's kind of weird that in the saga of WCT, tennis reversed one of basic premises that we live by: from chaos comes order.

RIP, Lamar. You were a gentleman and visionary to the end.


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Posted by FoT 12/14/2006 at 03:19 PM

Being in Dallas, I remember those were the only time I actually got to see "live" PRO tennis - attending the tennis events that Lamar brought to the city. (boy do I miss those days)...

My prayers are with the family.

Posted by smallville 12/14/2006 at 03:45 PM

I fondly remember the WCT events as a kid, I had a chance to see saw all of the greats play from Laver and Rosewall to McEnroe and Mel Purcell (just kidding.) Those were the good ole days.

"high-falutin" .... what a great word

Posted by Chris Lewis 12/14/2006 at 03:52 PM

Pete, that was an absolutely superb post.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't things change dramatically when, in '72, WCT and the ILTF agreed that WCT (& their 32 contract pros) would run its events during the first three months of the following year ('73,) plus Dallas in May, & the ILTF would have the rest of the year to run their events? Until this agreement was reached, I'm sure that WCT events & ILTF events were held concurrently. The deal also included a commitment from Lamar that he would discontinue contracting players in 1973.

The absurd thing was, though, that even in spite of this commitment, WCT players were banned by the ILTF from playing the French & Wimbledon in '72 because they were still under contract to Lamar. My understanding was that Lamar was happy to switch the dates of his events so that his players could play the French & Wimbledon in '72, but that the ILTF wouldn't have a bar of it.

Reason being, the ILTF AGM wasn't until after Wimbledon, and they weren't prepared to bring the meeting date forward to accommodate the WCT contract pros. This was the sort of stupidity & pig-headedness that led to the formation of the ATP.

On another note, you're absolutely right about that five set, televised WCT Dallas final between Laver & Rosewall putting tennis on the US and international map.

Tennis and the players have much to thank Lamar for.

Posted by Matt Zemek 12/14/2006 at 04:19 PM

In light of all that's been discussed on this blog in 2006 alone, it becomes clear from your terrific piece, Pete, that Lamar Hunt has been a seminal figure in American sports, not just the NFL. What Roone Arledge did for sports on the TV side, Lamar Hunt did on the entrepreneurial side. That's what comes through to me here.

It's beyond impressive; it's absolutely astonishing.

And from a perfect gentleman, too... that's the most important part about Hunt, his accomplishments aside.

Posted by James 12/14/2006 at 04:37 PM

As an ex-Buffalonian, I will always have a soft spot for Lamar Hunt and his fellow AFL outlaws, including Ralph Wilson. I think that the success of the AFL was crucial to the development of a lot of professional sports in the US, tennis and soccer included. Who knows what might have happened had the AFL failed. Hunt would have been fine financially, but would the young maverick been so quick to invest in and lend his expertise to professional tennis as he did? Thankfully, we’ll never know.

Posted by Sanja 12/14/2006 at 04:49 PM

Great piece, Pete. This is all new to me. You do him great justice.

Posted by Sam 12/14/2006 at 05:00 PM

Great writing Pete. I've known of Lamar Hunt from following both tennis and football (more from the latter). Both sports and their players have much to thank him for.

Posted by Todd and in Charge 12/14/2006 at 05:09 PM

Bravo, Pete. A fascinating, important and little-known history of a seminal sports figure, brought instantly to life with your words.

You have your next book idea right there.

Posted by JR 12/14/2006 at 05:42 PM

There is no question that Laver-Rosewall'72 was among the handful of GMAT that I have seen, and probably the most influential. Tennis put its best foot forward and hit the jackpot. I remember hearing afterwards how many non-tennis fans came across the match by accident and where transfixed, and then called friends to tell them--"You've got to see this!" I don't even know if it was televised outside the US, but clearly it ignited the US tennis boom of the 70s and 80s.

Posted by Pete 12/14/2006 at 06:11 PM

Thanks for the kind words, folks. Chris makes a very interesting point and it underscores the "stop Hunt" reaction of the establishment to WCT. I've often supported the ITF in political disputes (too long to go into here, but largely having to do with that organization having a mandate to grow the game, not just profit from it and talk vaguely about ruboff etc.), but the outfit was badly played by the wedge-drivers and others who saw their profit potentially shrink if Hunt coralled the horses and made WCT something like a tennis version of the NFL - even with an accomodation with the Grand Slams, which as Chris notes Lamar was more than amenable to pursue. You'd still have, oh, the Nasdaq 100 or Paris Bercy, but they would be branded WCT Miami, and WCT Paris - everybody could have won and the game would have been cleaner, easier to understand, less commercialized (in the most crass sense)and more mainstream. In theory, anyway. . . further thoughts from the Elders welcome!

Posted by Jerry 12/14/2006 at 07:05 PM

Interesting info on Lamar's life in tennis Pete. I seem to remember Ivan Lendl being close to him also. As in Lendl playing all the WCT events.

Posted by skip1515 12/14/2006 at 09:08 PM

WCT events were tremendously well organized, as I recall, and the programs that Hank/Dunlop Maxply referred to in a post a few months ago, the ones that had pictures and short bios of all the players, were a feature of those tournaments.

Interestingly, because the players were part of the WCT stable, their pictures were in all the programs (essentially boilerplate magazines with local advertising) whether they were in any one tournament or not. This went a long way towards making the all tour's participants better known, not just the marquee names, and today's tour(s) would do well to emulate this idea.

I mentioned in a post about Lamar Hunt's death at "Odds, Ends, Awards..." that Hunt sent me a personal note in reply to my having written him. Pete, your description of him now lets me understand better how his note fit in with him as a person.

Two other memories of WCT days: the first is the nickname for the Handsome Eight, which was The Handsome Seven and Tony Roche. The other is how the two WCT tours, officially called the Red and Blue if I remember correctly, came to be known as the Rod and Kenny shows since those two dominated their respective tour's tournaments.

Can tennis ever have a commissioner as self-effacing as Hunt?

Posted by Matt Zemek 12/14/2006 at 10:04 PM

Pete:

Not having been alive in 1972, just what was it about WTC television productions that were superior? I'm sure a lot of younger TW'ers would like to know more about Hunt's magic touch as a promoter/packager/organizer... especially since TTC and/or ESPN could perhaps learn some lessons from the Hunt formula. Fleshing out some of the TV-friendly qualities from the WTC might be helpful.

Posted by Chris Lewis 12/14/2006 at 11:28 PM

Even though I didn't know Lamar personally, I know that he commanded tremendous respect from the players. After the game made its transition from the "shamateurism" of the 60's to open tennis in 1968, it was Lamar who was primarily responsible for giving the players their independence.

He achieved this by offering to the players contracts that were worth far more than they could make "under the table" as amateurs or from weekly prizemoney as independent pros. For example, in the early seventies, I think Lamar contracted Arthur Ashe for around the million dollar mark, a far cry from the few hundred dollars a week the top guys were making as amateurs.

But aside from paying players top dollar, Lamar had a reputation as being 100% true to his word. His events were always run exceptionally well, with real attention paid to detail. He made sure that players were treated with respect. And, as far as I know, they all spoke highly of him. It would be of real interest to hear what guys like Rod, Ken, Newk & Rochey have to say about him today.

One other point I'd like to make is that before WCT came along, the National Associations literally owned the players. For instance, players needed to get permission from their national body if they wanted to compete in tournaments overseas. If the player was out of favour, well, bad luck.

What concerned the players most in 1972, after Lamar agreed to discontinue contracting players, was that they would once again fall under the jurisdiction of their national associations.

It was the Pilic affair in 1973 that brought the tension between the ILTF and the players to a head, the consequence of which was the formation of the ATP and the Wimbledon boycott of 1973. They were turbulent times.

Posted by Sanja 12/14/2006 at 11:34 PM

Chris, What was the "Pillic Affair"? If you have time, as that was before my time.

Posted by Sanja 12/14/2006 at 11:58 PM

I'd like to second Matt's comments as below also. Thank You!

"Not having been alive in 1972, just what was it about WTC television productions that were superior? I'm sure a lot of younger TW'ers would like to know more about Hunt's magic touch as a promoter/packager/organizer... "

Posted by MWC 12/14/2006 at 11:58 PM

My memories of WCt tennis were the televised semis and finals on the weekend. They telecasts were always great entertainment, and you always got to see the best players battling. Where did you get to consistently see the top 8 in the world play, with the top 4 usually playing the semis week to week? Hats off to Lamar Hunt, he was a pioneer.

Posted by Chris Lewis 12/15/2006 at 12:02 AM

Hi Sanja,

Niki Pilic, Yugoslavia's top player in the early 70's, according to his national association, had committed to play Davis Cup against, of all countries, New Zealand prior to Wimbledon in '73.

The truth was that his "commitment" was conditional upon the Yugoslav number two, Zjelko Franulovic, recovering from an injury & being available to play, as well as being conditional upon Pilic not making the WCT doubles playoffs which clashed with the Davis Cup dates.

Well, Pilic did qualify for the playoffs, which he was contractually obligated to play, and therefore was unavailable to play for Yugosalvia.

The Yugoslavian association called for a nine month ban, which the ILTF reduced to one month, during which time Wimbledon was to be played. Realizing that this could be the fate of any of the players of that era, they all (with the exception of three players, Ilie Nastase, Roger Taylor & Ray Keldie) stood behind Pilic and boycotted Wimbledon as a show of player power. Until it actually happened, the ILTF thought the players were bluffing.

For the record, NZ beat Yugoslavia 3-2. And Jan Kodes won Wimbledon. :-) :-)

Posted by Sanja 12/15/2006 at 12:12 AM

Thanks Chris!

That's very interesting. I always want to believe in kharma (what goes around comes around). You sent me to google twice - never heard of Franulovic (for shame!) and Jan Kodes- Czech. Niki Pilic seems like he must of been a nice guy (?). It's all good except for NZ beating the Yugos! Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Posted by Chris Lewis 12/15/2006 at 12:29 AM

Pete commented:

"You'd still have, oh, the Nasdaq 100 or Paris Bercy, but they would be branded WCT Miami, and WCT Paris - everybody could have won and the game would have been cleaner, easier to understand, less commercialized (in the most crass sense)and more mainstream. In theory, anyway. . . further thoughts from the Elders welcome!"

And in practice too, Pete...but only *if* the ILTF had treated Lamar as a partner and not a threat, and only *if* they had treated the players with far more respect. My main reservation about the National Bodies and their parent is that while it may not be profits that turn 'em on, they generally tend to lust a tad too much after power. And certainly that was never more true in the days following the death of amateur tennis.

Sanja: I know Niki very well, and I get on exceptionally well with him...but, funnily enough, he actually wasn't tremendously popular with a number of fellow pros back in the day. Which made the players' stand even more impressive. They were standing on principle, not loyalty to a friendship.

Posted by Sanja 12/15/2006 at 12:41 AM

Oh Chris - see I like you even more now. I find it sometimes takes a certain type of sensibilty to appreciate the Yugos.

It's always interesting, anyway.

I came here as someone who likes to watch tennis (family thing really) and now I'm playing every weeekend, and learning all these interesting things about how professional tennis came to be......

I love it here! Thanks.

Posted by Chris Lewis 12/15/2006 at 12:48 AM

Oh Sanja: Out of loyalty to Niki's friendship, I'm not going to test even *your* Yugo sensibilities by quoting some of his public statements about particular issues in the 60's and 70's. I'm going to tease you instead.

Posted by ajv 12/15/2006 at 12:50 AM

Here's my Lamar Hunt contribution:

Cuban kid living in Union City, New Jersey; 15 years old in 72, and he's heard of tennis but has never seen anyone play the game, EVER; played baseball in Cuba, now addicted to bball because of Walt Frazier; sees Laver/Rosewall on Channel 4 I think (black and white set); mesmerized by Laver in particular (he lost); the following week heads down to public courts on 1st Street and Bergenline Avenue, is given a girl's racquet (long handle) by some old lady, and gives the ball a whack on an unused RED CLAY court; decides to become rod laver..... convinces best friend (6 feet, 240 pounds genius who never leaves the house and never plays sports because too embarassed by his girth) to join him for a hit; best friend falls in love with game too (none of the kids in neighborhood play so no need to be embarrassed)...bye bye bball, hello tennis; with no instructors, the friends teach themselves the game by watching Donald Dell/Bud Collins tennis on public tv, and reading "Tennis Strokes and Strategies", the Classic Instruction Series published by Tennis Magazine in the early 70s (still have it)...in 75, the two friends spend their weekend freshman orientation at Forest Hills instead of at Columbia College, using up all money, and having to beg for change at bus station in NYC to get back to Jersey (have only missed one or two Opens since then)....in 77, one of the two sees a pretty cuban girl with a Dorothy Hamill haircut at the courts, asks her out, (first time she ever played tennis; first time he ever asked a girl out), tennis is all they have in common, and good times ensue....by 79 the overweight genius (now a freshman at Harvard Law) has lost 50 pounds through incessant tennis playing....in 82 the friends, now lawyers in NYC, make a bet: the better player of the two promises that unless he wins 50 matches out of 60 during the summer he has to take the other one (who still loves to eat) to La Grenouille...in 85 the cuban kid marries that girl he met on the tennis court in 77; they decide to live in a condo in NJ because, AND ONLY BECAUSE, it has three tennis courts (lighted)...Cuban kid wins condo championship, and gets to play with Peruvian Davis Cupper practice player (humbling experience)...96 finds the Cuban kid in Connecticut playing at Lendl's club and teaching his daughter how to play (plenty of courts and racquets now, god bless America)...fast forward to today: middle aged Cuban guy takes the day off from work and has a hit with 13 year old USTA Junior daughter who's beginning to kick his ass (6 year old boy is going to be even better). A few years ago, she asked him how in the world two poor Cuban kids (the formerly plump friend is godfather to her brother and, although no longer playing due to injury, still loves tennis and drinks Rafa Kool Aid)got so deep into tennis, and he said: "Well, there was this tennis match back in the 70s".

Posted by Sanja 12/15/2006 at 12:59 AM

Oh hey Sanja! So are you going to admit that you love being teased?

"Not sure"

Well maybe you should include your email address just in case anyone may want to send you some quotes or something?

"Will do"

Ok, well time for bed - work tomorrow and then office Christmas Party!

"Ugh"


Posted by Sanja 12/15/2006 at 01:04 AM

AJV - fabulous story - eyes welling up and all.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 12/15/2006 at 01:13 AM

Chris is really on a roll tonight. If you haven't had enough of WCT, at about the time Pete was rolling in with this great post, I lobbed in a couple of other thoughts at Steve's blog down below.

Its especially moving to read ajv's post. Having seen both that Laver/Rosewall match and current Federer/Nadal classics, I'm sort of confused, frankly, as to how these guys are not sparking another tennis boom.

After all, Laver and Rosewall were Aussis, not Americans, so you can't say its all because Federer is Swiss. I think one thing may be that in those days, there were only a couple of networks. I forget what channel Laver/Rosewall was on that day, but certainly the match was not competing with the Golf Channel, five Soccer Channels, NFL Prime ticket, four ESPNs showing poker or darts, etc. But obviously, the Slams are still on the major networks here, and you have plenty of chances to see Federer at those tournaments.

Comparing 1972 to 2006 does not lead one to easy conclusions, that is for sure.

Posted by Chris Lewis 12/15/2006 at 01:18 AM

DM - Just as I was about to turn off the lights, you send me over to Steve's...

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 12/15/2006 at 01:31 AM

And becuase I cannot resist, let me simply ask this, would you attend the following tournament:

Richmond WCT, 1972.

Singles semi-finals, Laver d. Ashe, Drysdale d. Newcombe,

Doubles semi-finals, Newcombe/Roche d. Emerson/Laver,
Okker/Riessen d. Carmichael/Ruffels

Singles Final, Laver d. Drysdale,

Doubles Final Okker/Riessen d. Newcombe/Roche

What did fans who attended see, besides great tennis? They learned (i) Cliff Drysdale is not half bad, (ii) Okker, Riessen, Carmichael, and Ruffels must not suck too badly, after all Okker and Riessen won the whole thing, and Carmichael and Ruffels beat Ashe and Lutz in the second round.

I don't know if any of the recognizable singles players were taking it easy in any way in the doubles draw, but the reality was that the doubles players may have been somewhat specialized even then, but you could not watch the tournament and fail to respect their ability.

Perhaps doubles should simply be mandatory. Gee, even though no one will agree to it you must admit from a fan's perspective its not completely crazy.

Posted by temes 12/15/2006 at 01:40 AM

Awww great story ajv. Touching.

I wish I had such great stories to tell...well, this one time, at bandit camp...

May Lamar Hunt, of whom I heard the first time today, rest in peace.

Posted by Chris Lewis 12/15/2006 at 01:41 AM

DM wrote:

"Having seen both that Laver/Rosewall match and current Federer/Nadal classics, I'm sort of confused, frankly, as to how these guys are not sparking another tennis boom."

One point that may be relevant is that Ken was 37 and I think Rod was 34. I'm just guessing, but the televised '72 Dallas final gave these two underexposed guys far more US exposure than ever before.

This needs to be checked, but I think, for the first time in a televised tennis match in the US, regular programming was stopped to allow the match to continue to the end.

Posted by Chris Lewis 12/15/2006 at 01:43 AM

ajv - I meant to thank you for that post in each of my last posts, but this time I'm determined to remember. Thank you.

Posted by Chris Lewis 12/15/2006 at 01:55 AM

Hey DM - Can't resist either...

...but Marty pretty much *always* gave Rod nightmares; Bob "Nailbags" Carmichael usually gave Kenny fits; & Tom Okker is right up there on the all times doubles winners list.

And I can tell you, having played all of the names who played Richmond (with the exception of Rod), they took their doubles *real* serious.

Posted by skip1515 12/15/2006 at 06:56 AM

ajv, *that* is a great, great story. Thank you.

Posted by skip1515 12/15/2006 at 08:07 AM

Chris Lewis and DM: you made me do it –– all this talk of the WCT tour and I went looking for the draw from the first live tennis I ever saw, the 1969 Philadelphia US Pro Indoor.

The ATP results archive begins in 1970 (sob) so that's what I looked at, but I got to read quite a few names I'll never forget that rarely come up in conversation, even here. It’s amazing to read of the matches we got to see whose color and contrast, today, are hard to believe, to say nothing of the tennis played (Ralston v Tiriac?, 2nd round!).

In the draw were the dry facts of a story I've never forgotten:

As he did for many years, my dad brought us to Philly for the matches. Laver took the court against Graham Stilwell, who was playing with his left forearm in a cast (!) due to a fracture or something. Laver went down a break right away. Dad said we had to leave, "School night..." and all that, and we were not happy.

But Dad inadvertently handed us a different sort of memory.

The tournament was played at The Spectrum, the indoor stadium right next to the Walt Whitman Bridge that leads back to New Jersey. It’s a good thing one sits down while in a car, otherwise we would have fallen over: listening to the radio, while still on the bridge, we heard that the match was already over. The Rocket had won, 6/2 6/3.

Posted by creig bryan 12/15/2006 at 08:43 AM

ajv:

Excellent replay. How's your game these days? Have you added any
shots to your arsenal? Any coaching stories?

I'd offer up my "starting out" story, but I thought Pete was going to do a special post for that.

Good morning, Steggy.

ks

Posted by Rosangel 12/15/2006 at 08:45 AM

Sanja:
The discussion above triggered a few thoughts that might interest you. I'm fairly sure that the players had no particular quarrel with Wimbledon itself over the 1973 boycott - it was the autocratic behaviour of the national tennis federations and the recent formation of the ATP that created the mood for some heavy confrontation. The Wimbledon championships ended up being caught in the middle. Probably no-one in the ILTF thought that the players would go through with their boycott.

Regarding the power of the national tennis federations in the era being discussed, Ilie Nastase, who did play during that Wimbledon in 1973 that the other players boycotted, later said in his autobiography that he was forced to play, both by the Romanian Tennis Federation (who had enormous power over their players), and due to personal pressure from Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu, who phoned him to ask him to play. (I'm not sure everyone totally believes that, but that was his version of events). Nastase in fact later admitted that he wanted to play anyway (Quote: "It was my best year and my best chance to win Wimbledon. I wanted to win. Why should I give that up because someone wasn’t allowed to play Davis Cup. It was the wrong time to boycott. They should’ve boycotted the Davis Cup.").

If I remember correctly, he won a large number of tournaments that year, including the Italian and French Opens, and Queen's in the run-up to Wimbledon. As the form player and also the 1972 Wimbledon losing finalist, he could well have ended up the winner, but folded under pressure before reaching the final (to Sandy Mayer?). All he managed to do was upset many of his peers, although his later revelations about the pressure he was under from his national tennis federation and Ceausecu did regain him some sympathy.
By the way, I think that neither Jimmy Connors nor Bjorn Borg were ATP members at that moment in time (it had only newly been set up), so that's how both were able to play that 1973 Wimbledon (in Borg's case he reached the quarterfinals).

If you want to get some insight into how powerful some of the national tennis federations were in the former communist countries during that era, I do recommend Nastase's book. (It also has quite a lot in it about Ion Tiriac).

[Note: I have in fact met Ilie Nastase a couple of times (purely in a trivial social context, nothing major - embarrassingly, the first time I didn't recognise him as I wasn't expecting him to be there!). He is very entertaining. I was totally overawed and lost for words].

Posted by Rosangel 12/15/2006 at 09:48 AM

A link for Sanja:). I was looking for this one earlier and couldn't find it. This article describes Nastase's non-boycott decision and the reaction to it much better than I did.

[It also describes Niki Pilic as thinking, among other things, that "anyone who even looked like a hippie should be shot, preferably through the heart by him"]

http://sport.guardian.co.uk/wimbledon2003/story/0,,983181,00.html

Posted by Well Left 12/15/2006 at 10:12 AM

Wow. I aleays thought 'Chiefs' when I heard Lamar Hunt's name. Thanks for this tribute, Pete.

Now I will think WCT and what could have been?
It would be too cool to have the top 32 players locked into a season, making forays out to play the Slams and wow the rest of the world.

Instead of leaving the tv programming to chance, maybe a sports channel would pick up coverage of something similar, today. Wouldn't TTC cover those 'League' matches? Every Saturday the fans would have a doubleheader (the semis) and then a final on Sunday. I'd pay to watch.

Posted by Sanja 12/15/2006 at 10:14 AM

Hey Rosangel!

Thanks alot. I'd like to start a Niki Pilic quote of the day thread - Really I AM convinced I've heard it all and your beau Chris is really leaving me hanging. Prove me wrong - is that maybe just a bit enticing, Chris ? ?

I can't even relate here my father's thoughts on John Lennon and staying in bed for peace I'd get edited out the window. "Ju now what? I stay in bed all day for peace also - ok?" It's not really a farfetched opinion though the prone to exaggeration gets in the way - of course no one should be shot, let alone through the heart.

Nastase is a colorful character - I've now put his book on my list. Thanks all your info.

Posted by Sam 12/15/2006 at 10:23 AM

ajv - That was a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing that.

Well Left - Lamar Hunt's name usually brings to mind the Chiefs, the AFL, and the origin of the term Super Bowl (named after the Super Balls his kids were playing with). I did know of his WCT involvement, but learned a lot from Pete's tribute.

skip - Sorry you had to leave that Laver match early. Parents

Posted by Pete 12/15/2006 at 10:46 AM

AJV - you said it in a better way than I've ever come across before, in a way that goes way beyond the subject. Awesome, say hello for us to the hefty dude!

Posted by Pete 12/15/2006 at 10:51 AM

skip - the Philly US Pro Indoor rocked! First time I ever covered a tennis match, for a small NJ local paper, was the match you cite. The GHQ was the Bellevue Stratford hotel (an era ended when legionnaire's disease shut the place down) and the TD,Marilyn Fernberger, reserved a penthouse suite for post-match hospitality/drinks/etc. The players would ALL wander by to have a beer and jawbone. Good times.

Posted by Rosangel 12/15/2006 at 11:10 AM

Sanja: Martina Navratilova's (out of print) autobiography also has a lot in it about the power of the old Czech national tennis federation. Among other things. You might find a second-hand copy on Amazon.

Posted by skip1515 12/15/2006 at 11:19 AM

Sam: I'm sorry I missed the rest of that match, too, but my father brought us to the US Pro Indoor so many other nights over the years, and sat on the edge of his seat with us until 1 AM watching matches finish, that I could never fault him for that one parental move that night.

Pete: Yet another "It's a small world" story. Cool. I've always said Marilyn Fernberger was (is) the most consistent person in the whole world. Everyone has the same opinion of her; she's, unnhh, tough.

I saw her recently at the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis Center gala, and went up to her to introduce myself and say that I'd almost worn my ball boy t-shirt from 1970 or something. She turned to Ed, her husband, and instructed him to tell me "the ballboy story".

It seems a strapping, 6'5" tall fellow came up to Ed on the street, exclaiming, "Mr. Fernberger, hello! Oh, don't you recognize me?" When Ed said, No, he didn't, the guy replied, "But I was a ballboy at the tournament!"

Posted by Sam 12/15/2006 at 11:39 AM

That's cool, skip. Did your Dad play as well or did he just watch tennis?

Liked the ballboy story.

Posted by Viv 12/15/2006 at 11:45 AM

Tremendous tribute, Pete. Mr. Hunt's passing is a sad occasion for tennis. I don't know of any other individual who was enshrined in the tennis Hall of Fame along with its equivalents in soccer and professional football. Does anybody else?

I find posts such as this one, which relate to figures of importance in the evolution of the sport, really stimulating. I'd say they probably are of interest to readers of all ages here. The discussion brings up references to others such as Mr.Franulovic in earlier comments. Those of us who are relative newcomers to the game may know of his position as the TD in Monte Carlo but be less aware of his semi-final appearance at Roland Garros.Posts such as this one are great at providing us with a more 3-dimensional view of former players and people who helped shape the sport. If it's possible to make a request I, for one, would like to see more of them written!

Posted by Sam 12/15/2006 at 12:44 PM

To follow up on what Viv said, I heard yesterday that Lamar Hunt is in the Hall of Fame for 8 different sports. Amazing.

Posted by Rosangel 12/15/2006 at 12:51 PM

Pete: I'd belatedly like to thank you for your post too, because although I'm well aware of who Lamar Hunt was, and have read a lot on the background to the WCT tour, I've still learned quite a bit.

Viv: Franulovic played the RG final not the semi-final in 1970 (against Jan Kodes). (I'm afraid I have an elephantine memory for this sort of fact; apologise if it's annoying.).

For you or anyone who's interested in more facts that relate to some of the above-mentioned people, here's one: Zeljko Franulovic, Mario Ancic, Goran Ivanisevic, Marco Ostoja (was playing in the 1980s) and, for that matter, Niki Pilic (now of course Croatia's Davis Cup Captain - I'm sure you all know but it which wasn't mentioned above - and, for reasons that escape me, also previously a winning German Davis Cup captain) were all brought up on the same street in Split, and all learned, at different times, to play tennis in the local club there.

For what it's worth, it was Niki Pilic who lost the RG 1973 final to Ilie Nastase before the boycott situation blew up.

Posted by Tari 12/15/2006 at 12:55 PM

Wow ajv! Well done. I had goosebumps reading that. Thank you. :)
Just a precious story.

Posted by tennisfan 12/15/2006 at 12:56 PM

Great tribute to Mr. Hunt, Pete.

AJV, that's a wonderful and moving story.

Chris/Ros/Viv - thanks for filling in the ancillary stories around that period. It's gives one a better perspective.

Posted by rudy3 12/15/2006 at 01:03 PM

Mr Hunt's passing sadly causes me to reflect on how prominate my state was to the birth of professional tennis. Dallas, and here in Houston, where the woman's tour was born. And as it is now, the Master's Cup has moved on (likely to return when hell freezes over), this is the last year of the US Clay Court tournament (leaving due to management bickering). No WTA event. Unlikely to get a Davis Cup tie anytime soon, although a Fed Cup may not be out of the question.
But we got the Texans...sorry to OT...but last Sunday when Vince scored the winning TD, and the crowd cheered and cheered for the visiting blue jerseys, and Bud Adams was there...bitter pill!

And Bags retired today, a shell of his former self.

Reflective day, for sure.

Posted by AmyLu 12/15/2006 at 01:16 PM

ajv, that story was touching and beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us.

And thank you for everyone, especially Pete for starting it with this post, for the memories of Hunt and tennis during that time period. I am learning a great deal by reading all of your comments and thoughts.

Posted by Sam 12/15/2006 at 01:40 PM

A couple of good links on Lamar Hunt. The first is tennis related, the second is football related.

http://www.thedesertsun.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061215/SPORTS07/612150366/1002/sports

http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/sports/special_packages/lamar_hunt/16243715.htm

The following line from the second article stuck with me: "He seemed to see limitless potential in everyone, and his outlook served him well. He will be missed and remembered."

Posted by ajv 12/15/2006 at 07:14 PM

creig: I'm still playing (2 to 3 times a week), trying to stay at the 4.5 level, with middle age plumpness, and tennis elbow problems as the main obstacles. I'm on my second (and last) cortisone shot for tennis elbow, and if anyone has suggestions for treatment please fire away. How often do you play?

On coaching, my daugther does exactly the opposite of what I tell her (in everything), so I leave that up to the pros she works with. In this western grip, topspin world, my old style game would not have helped her anyway.

To everyone who responded to my post, thanks for the compliments. On re-reading it, I now see that late night sessions at Chez Pete's tennis central, when accompanied by a glass of red wine and a nostalgia for the old days (courtesy of Pete's beautiful post on LH) can make a guy get a little...sentimental, let's say. But, hey it's too late now, and the feelings behind that post were genuine and heartfelt. The understanding response from you folks is much appreciated.

Posted by Nancy J 12/15/2006 at 10:00 PM

RIP Lamar Hunt! Thanks for the tennis.

Posted by Sanja 12/15/2006 at 10:58 PM

AJV, I read your post about ten times today. Each time it envoked a different feeling. Just another reason to thank the world for red wine, I guess.

Posted by Tari 12/15/2006 at 11:28 PM

Here, here. To red wine and AJV! Cheers.


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