1968- the year that changed tennis. Reality or narrative?

urban

Legend
We live in times of jubilees, 1618, the begin of the 30 year war in Europe, 1918, end of WW 1, 1968, a watershed year in many ways, political, social, cultural. Also in tennis, at last the birth of open tennis, after the long split between amateurs and pros. Many fans today see the begin of the open era as the begin of tennis' overall history. All alltime records discussed today are in fact open era records.
But is it the truth? Was 1968 the absolute watershed year? After studying the complex situation, it looks to me more like the last old pro tour year, with some open events interspersed. Pro players, separated in NTL and WCT contract pros and free lance pros were playing, some independent, former amateur players, who took home the money, and some really amateurs, notably the US players, all were competing, but mainly on separate cicruits. Only a handful or two handfuls of events were really open and only 3 or 4 events brought together all kinds of players.
Maybe a discussion on this important year with all aspects could be fruitful. Some recent newspaper articles have addressed the problems. It seems to me that even those online newsmen are reading our discussions here, giving informations of those tennis forums. Here are two links, hopefully they are working:
www.lastwordontennis.com/2018/02/16/1968-the-year-that-changed-tennis/
www.**************.org/tennis/news/Blast_From_the_Past/52147/laver-rosewall-ashe-roche-and-the-best-players-of-the-1968-season/
 

pc1

G.O.A.T.
Clearly 1968 was perhaps the most important year in tennis history with the beginning of Open Tennis. I was told by a player who participated at the 1967 Wimbledon Pro which Laver won that when the tournament ended I believe one of the top people at Wimbledon told the players that they would see them next year meaning that there would be Open Tennis.

Still I think with anything new, people weren't quite sure what to do. Would the old majors still have importance or would new tournaments like the Howard Hughes or the WCT Championships become big time because of the monetary rewards.

I think of it as sort of the Wild West in some ways. Different tournament groups and if you win in one group it wouldn't count in another groups. The organization was poor and no one knew how the media would handle it. The Women didn't have the WTA yet for example.

I think also 1964 was a very important year in tennis on the Old Pro Tour because they set up a tournament schedule similar to what they have now.
 

KG1965

Legend
1968 is the most important year in history.
For the popularity and the role of the media (newspapers and TV) I choose the central period of the 70s but the only fact of uniting ex pro and ex amateurs is certainly revolutionary.

To a lesser extent, but I think it is also important in 1990 when they institutionalized the circuit. And maybe the Masters GP / YEC had the deserved points.
The regularity of the current circuit is perhaps "daughter of 1990".
 

smoledman

G.O.A.T.
1968, than early 1980s when pros switched from wooden to graphite racquets. Essentially the switch ended Borg & McEnroe's grand slam winning days and opened it up for Boom-Boom Becker and Lendl to dominate. The next pivotal moment in tennis was 1995 when Agassi popularized the Australian Open and he had that classic Nike summer with Sampras that made the sport huge again.

Next would be the introduction of poly strings, with Kuerten being the first GS champion to use them in 1997. Marat Safin's 2000 US Open win was a perfect example of how big/strong guy with poly strings would totally overmatch Sampras.

Next would be 2004 when Federer had his first dominating season, nobody thought such a level was possible before. Then 2005 when Rafa showed up and instantly redefined what clay domination looked like.

After that, it's tough to say I feel like 2004-present is one big era of sameness.
 

ChrisRF

Legend
The next pivotal moment in tennis was 1995 when Agassi popularized the Australian Open and he had that classic Nike summer with Sampras that made the sport huge again.
Did Agassi really popularize the Australian Open? I mean, yes he won it 4 times starting in 1995, but when he had his debute he was the last big name who finally went there. Edberg, Wilander, Lendl, Becker and Sampras had all won it before.

I totally agree with what you said about the 1995 rivalry between Sampras and Agassi. That one year (and maybe also 1999) it was comparable to what Fedal is today.

By the way, talking about 1968: Does anyone have the full Wimbledon final of that year? That is the only Wimbledon final of the Open Era I never saw anywhere online. Of course I would like to see the other Slam finals of that times as well, but especially that first Open Wimbledon.
 

Nacho

Hall of Fame
We live in times of jubilees, 1618, the begin of the 30 year war in Europe, 1918, end of WW 1, 1968, a watershed year in many ways, political, social, cultural. Also in tennis, at last the birth of open tennis, after the long split between amateurs and pros. Many fans today see the begin of the open era as the begin of tennis' overall history. All alltime records discussed today are in fact open era records.
But is it the truth? Was 1968 the absolute watershed year? After studying the complex situation, it looks to me more like the last old pro tour year, with some open events interspersed. Pro players, separated in NTL and WCT contract pros and free lance pros were playing, some independent, former amateur players, who took home the money, and some really amateurs, notably the US players, all were competing, but mainly on separate cicruits. Only a handful or two handfuls of events were really open and only 3 or 4 events brought together all kinds of players.
Maybe a discussion on this important year with all aspects could be fruitful. Some recent newspaper articles have addressed the problems. It seems to me that even those online newsmen are reading our discussions here, giving informations of those tennis forums. Here are two links, hopefully they are working:
www.lastwordontennis.com/2018/02/16/1968-the-year-that-changed-tennis/
www.**************.org/tennis/news/Blast_From_the_Past/52147/laver-rosewall-ashe-roche-and-the-best-players-of-the-1968-season/

I like this question....I guess it depends on how you view tennis and what might be important to you. If your purely talking about the pro tour and money related to the pro tour, then:

For the men, I actually might argue that 1988 was a big year as, in short, it was the moment the ATP assumed full ownership of the mens game with the parking lot press conference and mission statement. It pretty much ended all the crazy circuits going on and put the pro game in the players hands. But, the foundation of the ATP might mean more to some people as well as the era of open tennis as you referenced. All 1968 really did was enable all players to compete in tournaments, and thus enable tournaments to solicit and pay for the top players to participate.

For women the formation of the WTA in 1973 would be the biggest moment, Some may say 1970 with the Virginia Slims tour. I tend to think the WTA was much better developing with women's tennis than the ATP.

But, as you pointed out prior to 1968 it was essentially an amateur circuit of tournaments, and a bunch of pro exhibitions so there really wasn't anything but amateur tournament history to compare to.
 

urban

Legend
Now i think the old pro tour pre 1968 was much more than exhibitions, but a very competitive all year tour, with format changing from hth series in the 1930s to 1950s to a more tournament circuit. By 1966, the pro tour following the model of Golf, had established a fine regular circuit of - by field i concede small - tournaments in the US, Europe, Australia and South Africa.
What is imo correct, is the reference to 1988 as a milestone year, because of the founding of the regular ATP tour. As other posters wrote, one can also make a case for 1973, with the invention of the computer ranking, or 1982/83 with the change to bigger rackets. I agree about the milestones for the WTA tour. 1968 didn't change much for womens tennis, because there was not much womens pro tennis pre 1968 (except Suzanne Lenglen, Pauline Betz or Althea Gibson). At least some women, like BJK, Rosie Casals or Ann Jones, toured with the NTL pros and learned a lot about the game.
 

Nacho

Hall of Fame
Now i think the old pro tour pre 1968 was much more than exhibitions, but a very competitive all year tour, with format changing from hth series in the 1930s to 1950s to a more tournament circuit. By 1966, the pro tour following the model of Golf, had established a fine regular circuit of - by field i concede small - tournaments in the US, Europe, Australia and South Africa.
What is imo correct, is the reference to 1988 as a milestone year, because of the founding of the regular ATP tour. As other posters wrote, one can also make a case for 1973, with the invention of the computer ranking, or 1982/83 with the change to bigger rackets. I agree about the milestones for the WTA tour. 1968 didn't change much for womens tennis, because there was not much womens pro tennis pre 1968 (except Suzanne Lenglen, Pauline Betz or Althea Gibson). At least some women, like BJK, Rosie Casals or Ann Jones, toured with the NTL pros and learned a lot about the game.

I will have to look it up later: yes there were a small amount of tournaments (US pro Championships, Wembley Championships, and French Championships) but my understanding is that pro tennis was determined by individual promoters that would send small groups of players (32 or so) around sometimes to play these few tournaments and other times to just play each other. Yes, the 60's pushed for more access to the amateur tournaments by pros, but there was always push back from the various county associations and the ITF. Wasn't this driven by the attention the pro tournaments got with ticket sales? Admittedly I am not sure why it was like this except that the associations all wanted control and didn't want the promoters to gain income. They also didn't want their events to be less prestigious, and could never agree on who would be in charge. I also believe the bigger associations like the LTA and USLTA were at odds with the ITLF over everything.

Was't there an initial meeting of associations to form a pro tour in the 50's or early 60's? Do you recall?
 

urban

Legend
We have a thread here called "The structure of the old pro tour", which i have initiated and where You can find many valuable informations by various posters on the schedule, prize money, context and organization structure of the old pro tour of the 1960s with many source references.
 

Nacho

Hall of Fame
We have a thread here called "The structure of the old pro tour", which i have initiated and where You can find many valuable informations by various posters on the schedule, prize money, context and organization structure of the old pro tour of the 1960s with many source references.

Interesting thread, I hadn't seen it yet and will have to make my way through it thanks for the referral
 

BorgCash

Legend
1968, than early 1980s when pros switched from wooden to graphite racquets. Essentially the switch ended Borg & McEnroe's grand slam winning days and opened it up for Boom-Boom Becker and Lendl to dominate. The next pivotal moment in tennis was 1995 when Agassi popularized the Australian Open and he had that classic Nike summer with Sampras that made the sport huge again.

Next would be the introduction of poly strings, with Kuerten being the first GS champion to use them in 1997. Marat Safin's 2000 US Open win was a perfect example of how big/strong guy with poly strings would totally overmatch Sampras.

Next would be 2004 when Federer had his first dominating season, nobody thought such a level was possible before. Then 2005 when Rafa showed up and instantly redefined what clay domination looked like.

After that, it's tough to say I feel like 2004-present is one big era of sameness.

There is a big hole in your story, between 1968 and early 1980. What about Borg phenomenal records and his new technique of topspin hitting?
 
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pc1

G.O.A.T.
There is a big hole in your story, between 1968 and early 1980. What about Borg phenomenal records and his new technique of topspin hitting?
Borg was unique. There were some like Laver who could do it but the surface on the racquets for mere mortal players greatly affected the amount of topspin you could put on the ball. Borg could hit with heavy topspin consistently. If anyone else did it they would mishit regularly.

Vilas and Santana could do it also but imo not nearly as effectively as Borg.
 

BorgCash

Legend
Borg was unique. There were some like Laver who could do it but the surface on the racquets for mere mortal players greatly affected the amount of topspin you could put on the ball. Borg could hit with heavy topspin consistently. If anyone else did it they would mishit regularly.

Vilas and Santana could do it also but imo not nearly as effectively as Borg.

He's a father of modern topspin playing.
 
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Gary Duane

G.O.A.T.
I'd wager Nadal would look a lot more like Borg playing with wood, or rather the shape of his shots.

To me the Borg backhand looks as unique as the Delpo forehand, and I think that technique would work today. But no one else can do it, just like no one else can do what Delpo does with the forehand. The shape of the shot is different, the take back, everything. Both have unique shots, and of course many other champions.
 
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pc1

G.O.A.T.
More like the father of the Nadal style of tennis.

People like Fed and Sampras were/are more like Laver with lighter, more modern equipment.
Well Borg was more adaptable with a better backhand than Nadal imo. He was more balanced than Nadal and didn't run around his backhand as much imo. However I do agree that his style was similar to Nadal's with the heavy topspin. I do agree with BorgCash that Borg did a lot to popularize the topspin game.

They have done comparisons on how similar Borg's forehand is to Federer's as far as swing path is concerned. I couldn't find the original video with the commentary in which they showed the similarities but the video below has the same video but they took away the audio portion and replaced it with music. You can see in the video the commentators are trying to compare the strokes


Gary, I believe Laver was far more backhand oriented than Federer and Sampras were with wood but I also see your point and I agree. While Federer especially had an excellent backhand he favored his forehand more than Laver and rightfully so. I think Laver would favor his forehand more (not that Laver had a bad forehand) if he had the type of forehand Federer had. Laver wrote that he felt he could hit both his forehand and backhand with equal control and power so he didn't favor his forehand as much.
 

BorgCash

Legend
More like the father of the Nadal style of tennis.

People like Fed and Sampras were/are more like Laver with lighter, more modern equipment.

Yes, it seems so. But there are so many players now who construct their playing on heavy topspins after Nadal. And they never watch Borg.
 

BorgCash

Legend
But Borg thbh wasn't that all the players use now. He didn't hold the racquet by two hands at the end of the swing.
 
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BorgCash

Legend
I'd wager Nadal would look a lot more like Borg playing with wood, or rather the shape of his shots.

To me the Borg backhand looks as unique as the Delpo forehand, and I think that technique would work today. But no one else can do it, just like no one else can do what Delpo does with the forehand. The shape of the shot is different, the take back, everything. Both have unique shots, and of course many other champions.

Don't want to look immodest but sometimes i found myself hitting close to Borg's backhand. I don't do it specially and it's not 100% looks like his movement, but it's something just between thbh and ohbh. He was my first tennis idol so maybe i just do it instinctively.
 
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Gary Duane

G.O.A.T.
Don't want to look immodest but sometimes i found myself hitting close to Borg's backhand. I don't do it specially and it's not 100% looks like his movement, but it's something just between thbh and ohbh. He was my first tennis idol so maybe i just do it instinctively.
No one hit the 2HBH with an open stance with wood, not that I remember. The racket was too heavy, and you needed a more classic technique to produce pace. Even so a lot of Borg's swing went into spin. At that time you pretty much had to choose either a lot of spin or hit flatter.

That is still somewhat true - think of Nadal - but modern rackets allow more of both.
 

BorgCash

Legend
No one hit the 2HBH with an open stance with wood, not that I remember. The racket was too heavy, and you needed a more classic technique to produce pace. Even so a lot of Borg's swing went into spin. At that time you pretty much had to choose either a lot of spin or hit flatter.

That is still somewhat true - think of Nadal - but modern rackets allow more of both.

My technique is classic, began to play in 1982 with 13 3/4 oz wood racquet. Of course i'm playing more modern sticks now, but also heavy and can be small headed like Lendl's Kneissl and Adidas.
But he mostly hit his backhand from classic close position.
 
We live in times of jubilees, 1618, the begin of the 30 year war in Europe, 1918, end of WW 1, 1968, a watershed year in many ways, political, social, cultural. Also in tennis, at last the birth of open tennis, after the long split between amateurs and pros. Many fans today see the begin of the open era as the begin of tennis' overall history. All alltime records discussed today are in fact open era records.
But is it the truth? Was 1968 the absolute watershed year? After studying the complex situation, it looks to me more like the last old pro tour year, with some open events interspersed. Pro players, separated in NTL and WCT contract pros and free lance pros were playing, some independent, former amateur players, who took home the money, and some really amateurs, notably the US players, all were competing, but mainly on separate cicruits. Only a handful or two handfuls of events were really open and only 3 or 4 events brought together all kinds of players.
Maybe a discussion on this important year with all aspects could be fruitful. Some recent newspaper articles have addressed the problems. It seems to me that even those online newsmen are reading our discussions here, giving informations of those tennis forums. Here are two links, hopefully they are working:
www.lastwordontennis.com/2018/02/16/1968-the-year-that-changed-tennis/
www.**************.org/tennis/news/Blast_From_the_Past/52147/laver-rosewall-ashe-roche-and-the-best-players-of-the-1968-season/

I think there were many aspects of the 1968 circuit worth noting. With the introduction of the open era, there were 12 open tournaments held over 15 weeks with total available prize money of $200,000+. Of these twelve open tournaments, the most significant ones were BHC, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open and PSW. Since the first open event was not held until late April, the "open season" only covered about seven months of the year. In looking over the lengthy list of professional and amateur events held between January and April, it is hard to find too many significant events. The 1968 Australian was the last amateur "major".

In terms of prize money earned at these open tournaments, by my estimate the WCT players earned a total of $50,000 to $100,000 from open events and the NTL players earned a total of about $100,000 from open events. [I am curious if anyone has detailed figures of the "earnings" for registered players such as Okker who were able to accept prize money in 1968].

In my opinion it was significant that Lamar Hunt chose to keep WCT running after Dave Dixon left the organization in the early part of the 1968 tour. WCT seemed to be the more experimental of the two pro groups, playing mostly indoor events on Astroturf with VASSS scoring. The original plan was for 80 events with $10,000 prize money per event (which would equate to $800,000 in total prize money). This available prize money figure was significantly reduced based on a reduction in the schedule, decrease in prize money at some events due to poor attendance, and with participation in open tournaments and pro events outside of the WCT tour. The initial WCT roster of eight players ("Handsome Eight") was expanded to ten players later in the year with the addition of Riessen and Moore. One report listed the total WCT player earnings for 1968 as $324,000, so if WCT earned $50,000 to $100,000 from open events, those same players earned $224,000 to $274,000 from WCT and other pro-only events.

NTL seemed to have a more traditional approach in its presentation. It appeared that MacCall scheduled events primarily in major cities such as New York, London, Paris and Los Angeles, as well as in Texas and South America. NTL started with six male players and four female players and never expanded its roster. The six male players were eventually acquired by WCT in 1970 and the contracts for the female players were not renewed after two years. One report listed the total NTL player earnings for 1968 as $277,000 (I think this figure reflects only the male players). If NTL players earned about $100,000 from open events, then they earned about $177,000 from NTL and other pro-only events.

So on a combined basis WCT and NTL earned total prize money of about $600,000 in 1968, for 16 players

Having two separate pro tours in the early part of the year did not seem to be of benefit to either group. The level of cooperation and joint scheduling seemed to increase in the latter part of the year, particularly at the French Pro, US Pro, Madison Square Garden (year-end) and Kramer/Wembley (year-end) events. The combined scheduling approach seemed to continue into 1969 and 1970.

The first year of the open era seemed to generate a lot of tension between the promoters and the tournament officials in terms of both prize money (for the players) and fees/compensation for the promoters who signed players to guaranteed contracts.

Finally, I think that the Dewar Cup deserves mention for (1) establishing a series of tournaments linked by a points system (2) being commercially sponsored and (3) being televised.
 

urban

Legend
Very good points, Scott tennis. I thought about the NTL schedule in early 1968. It seems, that the Australian swing fell out, mainly because Laver, the main attraction, was sidelined by an eye operation. McCauley writes something in this direction. Otherwise i could imagine some attractive Australian settings for NTL players, with the new pro Emerson at last facing his pro counterparts of his own country on home turf, or some combined WCT/NTL events with the new pros and old pros. The WCT had that rich event at Sydney. That the public was interested in those matchups, one can see on the first Australian open in 1969 at Brisbane. The best public attendance was set by the Laver-Emerson last 16 match, in a night match setting with some 7000 people in attendance. Two local boys pitted against each other. And the 1969 calendar had a pretty full Australian part.
 

hoodjem

G.O.A.T.
Borg was unique. There were some like Laver who could do it but the surface on the racquets for mere mortal players greatly affected the amount of topspin you could put on the ball. Borg could hit with heavy topspin consistently. If anyone else did it they would mishit regularly.

Vilas and Santana could do it also but imo not nearly as effectively as Borg.
And Okker? (Just wondering.)

Style of Play
He was among the first players of his era to hit the ball with heavy topspin.“
From https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Okker

(Of course, one should not believe everything written in Wikipedia.)
 
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pc1

G.O.A.T.
And Okker? (Just wondering.)

Style of Play
He was among the first players of his era to hit the ball with heavy topspin.“
From https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Okker

(Of course, one should not believe everything written in Wikipedia.)
Okker was unique for his time. Laver thought he was perhaps the most talented player in tennis.

His forehand was given a description by Jack Kramer. Kramer in so many words said Okker did everything wrong but his great talent overcame that. Nowadays I believe some have said it’s the norm. It was a great forehand.
 

Spin-rooky

New User
1968 is the most important year in history.
For the popularity and the role of the media (newspapers and TV) I choose the central period of the 70s but the only fact of uniting ex pro and ex amateurs is certainly revolutionary.

To a lesser extent, but I think it is also important in 1990 when they institutionalized the circuit. And maybe the Masters GP / YEC had the deserved points.
The regularity of the current circuit is perhaps "daughter of 1990".
I think there's much so say for calling 1968-1990 a/another 'transition period' : (1) The dominance of grass in the four Major's declined and became four different surfaces, each with different characteristics - and much harder for the players to be great on all of them - parallel to that the four Major's or Grand Slam Tournaments also became the four most important tennis battle grounds, both in the public opinion as in the ranking validations (though this process already started in the fifties), (2) Wooden racquets disappeared and after the introduction of many different new designs, a new ± uniformity of racquets has been reached, (3) The 'wars' between different Pro Tours gradually disappeared and rankings became much more balanced than ever before. We now live in the (for now) last period of 'modern tennis', the first being the Tllden/Langlen Era of the twenties.
 
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