The tennis circuit was not so meticulously and structurally fabricated by its administrating members in the past like it is today. Initially different tennis circuits governed the tournaments and made their own circuits. Players were given the choice to sign a particular circuit and play the tournaments accordingly. One such circuit was the World Championship Tennis (WCT) circuit. The first eight players to sign this circuit were known as “The Handsome Eight.”
The WCT was started by Lamar Hunt and its main competitor was the National Tennis League(NTL). Started by David Dixon, the WCT’s promotion was propelled when Lamar Hunt joined the picture. The Handsome Eight were : Dennis Ralston, John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Cliff Drysdale, Earl Buchholz, Niki Pilić, Roger Taylor and Pierre Barthès. The WCT ran from 1968 till 1989. The handsome eight were a constant feature in all those years, thereby helping the WCT to keep its flag high. Here is a brief overview of the Handsome eight:
1) Dennis Ralston
Dennis Ralston turned professional in 1966 and became a member of the WCT later on. Ralston was coached by Pancho Gonzalez. A doubles specialist, Ralston had won five grand slam doubles titles. He was a member of the United States Davis Cup team who won in 1963. Professional ranking systems were not introduced that time but Ralston was place as high as No.3 in many unofficial ranking lists.
2) John Newcombe
John Newcombe was one of the most complete players that tennis has ever seen. A powerful serve and volley tactic and mastery over the second serve ace was the highlight of Newcombe’s game play. A No.1 player of the early seventies, Newcombe was a complete package of a tennis athlete with command over both the singles and doubles format of the game. He had won 12 grand slam doubles titles and 7 grand slam singles titles. He served as the president of the ATP in 1977 and 1978.
3) Anthony “Tony” Dalton Roche
Tony Roche was an Australian tennis player known for being a formidable player on tour and also one of the most successful coaches of all time. As a player he had won the French Open in 1966. In doubles, he won 13 grand slam titles. He was a top 10 player for six consecutive years. Roche suffered from multiple shoulder and elbow injuries and hence had a very short career. But, the Australian didn’t give up and instead he chose to become the engine behind players who are today multiple grand slam champions. He was coach to former World No.1s like Lleyton Hewitt, Ivan Lendl, Patrick Rafter. Roche also coached Roger Federer for two months and it is said it was based on a “handshake agreement” rather than signing a contract. An amazing coach and player, Roche also has four Davis Cup titles to his name.
4) Eric Clifford “Cliff” Drysdale
Former ATP President, Cliff Drysdale was an African who later got a US citizenship. He was ranked as high as World No.4. He was a prolific player of the two handed backhand. The biggest achievement of his career came when he won the US Open doubles title in 1972. Today, he is a commentator at ESPN.
5) Earrl Henry “Butch” Buccholz Jr.
Butch Buccholz started off with a very promising juniors career by winning the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. Buccholz played for very few years in his career. He became more active on tour by being the pioneer of the Miami Open. As a player, his greatest achievement came when he won the US Pro in 1962.
6) Nikola Pilic
Nikola Pilic was a Yugoslavian who was ranked as high as World No.6. He started playing tennis in 1962 and eight years later, lifted his first grand slam doubles title at the US Open. After retiring, he became the first player to be a coach of three different Davis Cup winning teams: Germay, Croatia and Serbia. He runs a tennis academy in Munich. Players like Michael Stitch, Ernest Gulbis and Novak Djokovic have came through this academy.
7) Roger Taylor
Roger Taylor was a British player known to be ranked as high as World No.8. He had a decent singles career but had major success in doubles. In 1971 and 1972 he won the US Open doubles title. He became the captain of the ladies Wightman Cup team and led them to victory in 1978.
8) Pierre Barthes
Pierre Barthes was a doubles specialist who had won the US Open doubles title in 1970 alongside Nikola Pilic. Since computer generated rankings were not present at that time, whether or not Barthes made it to the top 10 is still a controversial topic. He played his last match in 1980 in the French Open doubles tournament.
The Handsome Eight continued to play tennis for a few years in the Open era. As a coach or as a commentator or as a founder of a tennis academy, the Hnadsome Eight continued their efforts for the betterment of the sport.