The Washington Star International tennis tournament this week epitomizes tennis in the 1970s. A public site, television exposure, prize money, colorful clothes, yellow tennis balls, packed stands and 12-point tie breakers.
We play in more publicly accessible places now: the Spectrum in Philadelphia and the Washington Tennis Stadium in Washington. And with tennis having gone public, the faces in the stands at the tournaments are black and yellow, as well as white.
Wimbledon even changed its clothing rule from "white only" to "predominantly white."
When I was "young" player we were ruled by the iron hand of the United States Lawn Tennis Association, a member of the International Lawn Tennis Federation, the worldwide governing body of tennis. Then, as now, it is a body dominated by Americans, the Europeans mainly the English and French and the Australians.
The USLTA played the benevolent dictator. They told us when we could go to Europe in the spring and when we had to come back.
The whole focus of tennis in America in those days was Davis Cup and Forest Hills (no, it was not called the U.S. Open in those days). When I made the junior Davis Cup team in 1961 I was the world's happiest player. It meant that during the summer my bills would be paid. I'd automatically get into tournaments and I would get the best coaching available.
Obviously, the USLTA thought a few of us would eventually make the Davis Cup team.
The Americans rarely played in the winter; we went to college on tennis scholarships until we were 22 or so. Then we'd either bum around the world a couple of times playing in all the rinky-dink events in far away places or like. Chuck McKinley; Dick Savitt and Karen Hantz Susman, we'd quit, go to work, marry and have families.
We played summer tournaments at River Forst, Merion, The Town Club in Milwaukee, Orange, N.J.. and the Longwood Cricket Club, cricket is not played there.
At all of these places (private clubs, of course) we had to wear white clothes and at most places south of Washington, D.C. it also helped to be white inside your clothes.
I won the National Interscholastic in 1961 at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, site of the tournament for many years.
It was moved to a northern location the following year.
Not only was tennis "white only" until Althea Gibson and I came along, but was upper class white. And although public tennis courts were available in those days, they frequently were not maintained properly.
Tennis players were a select group in those days. Even more select was the manner tournaments filled their draws and seeded their stars. It was definitely a case of "Who you know" not how well you played.
Seeding was done on reputation and there were two seeding lists: one for Americans, and one for foreigners. I could nevere understand that.
Change was inevitable.
The International Lawn Tennis Federation no longer controlled us. We play under the auspices of the men's International Professional Tennis Council, three players, three ILTS representatives and three tournament directors.
No longer are we paid under the table gone are the predetermined seeding lists, replaced by an A.T.P computer that ranks players according to an average computed by dividing total points won in tournaments by number of tournaments played.
We are no long arbitrarily suspended by tennis associations. We submit our fate to our code of ethics and our rule book (we help write).
Today's tennis pros enter tournaments through A.T.P. bureaus in Dallas and Paris, France, two months in advance.
We play whenever, and wherever we please.
For me, I want to know this: With the four Wimbledon semi-finalists this year being 18, 20, 21 and 24 years old, where does that leave me