Was there only one tennis tour before the ATP?

An entire season of tennis that lasts annually is controlled by a particular circuit. This circuit maintains the meticulous structure of the tournaments that are to be played at specific time periods in the year. Currently the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) manages the men’s tour. But, ATP was not always the ruling body. There were several main bodies that came into the scenario of managing the tennis players and the tournaments they participate in.

1) International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF)

In 1911, lawn tennis became a popular sport with Davis Cup being a decade old by that time. Various players from different countries participated in tennis tournaments and it seemed that an association of these countries would just be the need of the hour. It was Charles Duane Williams who foresaw this concept. Sadly, Duane Williams died in the sinking Titanic and his absence was ardently felt when his proposed idea actually turned into a reality. On 1st March 1913, 15 nations joined hands to form the ILTF.

It was only after ten years that the United States Lawn Tennis Association became a part of the ILTF. The title of “World Championships” was scraped off from the names of many tournaments. But those were replaced by new tournaments which were held in Great Britain, USA, France and Australia – the modern grand slams. From 1924, the ILTF became the official authority to control lawn tennis tournaments globally. In 1977, the word “lawn” was removed from its name thereby turning into the “International Tennis Federation” (ITF).

2) World Championship Tennis (WCT)

The WCT was the one of the most competitive rival tournaments alongside the ILTF. The WCT was established by David Dixon in 1967. WCT brought the top players under its contract in the early seventies. These top players were popularly known as the “Handsome Eight” – Dennis Ralston, John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Cliff Drysdale, Earl Buccholz, Niki Pilic, Roger Taylor and Pierre Barthes. By July 1970, the WCT had almost all other major tennis stars signing their contracts.

The ILTF and WCT clashed exactly one year later. The ILTF voted to ban all the contract professionals of the WCT who played ILTF tournaments. The WCT had its own ranking system. The top eight players competed for an year end championship in November. This pattern is followed by the ATP today. The WCT’s relation with the Grand Prix circuit and the ILTF were fluctuant for the fact that they seldom came to agreements. In 1989, the last WCT tournaments were held.

3) National Tennis League (NTL)

One of the main reasons why the Open Era came to picture was the fact that the professionals had signed contracts to two different circuits- the WCT and the NTL. These two circuits tried to establish their monopoly by not sending their contracted players to Grand Slam events. This hampered the ILTF’s functioning. The split between professionals and amateurs reached its peek in 1967. The following year the Open Era was born which allowed the pros to play with the amateurs.

The NTL was a circuit which began in 1967. George MacCall, the captain of the US Davis Cup team from 1965 to 1967 laid the foundation of the NTL. It mainly controlled the circuit which comprised of tournaments within the USA. The NTL was the first circuit to hand out pro contracts to female tennis players. In the male category, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Pancho Gonzales, Andres Gimeno, Fred Stolle, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith and Roy Emerson were the prominent players. In 1970, the NTL was sold to WCT which was run by Lamar Hunt at that time.

4) US Indoor Circuit

In 1973 there were four tennis circuits which competed with each other. The WCT circuit, the Grand Prix Circuit, the European Spring and the US Indoor Circuit. The US Indoor circuits were held from January to April. The circuit was headed by Bill Riordan who later went on to become the future manager of Jimmy Connors. The tournament was sanctioned by the USLTA. It lasted for a very few months but held 13 tournaments in that short time span.

5) European Spring

The European Spring circuit started in January and lasted till June. This circuit suffered a major blow when their top ten players were lost to the World Team Tennis. In order to recover for the money lost, Geoff Mullis who ran the Grand Prix for sponsors raised the prize money 30 times. 43 percent of that prize money was sent to Europe. Ilie Nastase was the most successful player in this circuit.

6) Grand Prix circuit

When the players signed contracts under the WCT and the NTL, the tournaments often found themselves deprived of players. In 1969, Jack Kramer, the World No.1 player in 1940s and 1950s came up with the idea of a Grand Prix circuit.

“A series of tournaments with a money bonus pool that would be split up on the basis of a cumulative point system.” This would encourage the best players to compete regularly in the series, so that they could share in the bonus at the end and qualify for a special championship tournament that would climax the year”

In 1970, the ILTF approved Kramer’s idea of the Grand Prix circuit. Ben Barnett was announced as its president. The US Open, French Open and the Wimbledon were Grand Prix events. The Australian Open came under the WCT. The Grand Prix was governed by the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council which layer became the Men’s Tennis Council.

In 1988, Mats Wilander who led the ATP back then and was the World No.1 started negotiating with the Grand Prix. The main problems included were player fatigue and reduction in number of tournaments. The Grand Prix disagreed and Wilander announced that the ATP will start its own tour next year. The Grand Prix was thus dissolved in 1989.

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