Given the volatility of tennis politics, it is difficult to project what will happen to the pro game within the next five months, to say nothing of five years. Looking at the sport's recent history; change has been the only constant.
Nevertheless, it is safe to predict that Washington will remain a regular stop on both the men's and women's pro circuit and a likely site for "special events" or Davis Cup matches as well. Within five years the District also may have a modern indoor-outdoor tennis complex that could serve as both a focal point of local tennis activity and a magnet for new spectator events.
"We very much want to grow and to have a tennis center for the community, and we are optimistic for the future," said John A. Harris, who recently resigned as executive secretary of the Washington Area Tennis Patrons Foundation Inc., but is continuing to oversee the operations of the 2,000-member organization until a full-time executive director is hired.
"I think tennis will continue to do very well here because we have a good patrons group, healthy pro tournaments, a high per capita income and more interest in this area than in most other parts of the country. The Washington tennis market is stronger than the national market."
What the next five years hold for pro tennis locally depends in large measure on national and international developments.
"Without a doubt, there will continue to be a very major men's tournament and a very major women's tournament in Washington over the next five years. It would be safe to assume that each event will be in the top level of tournaments on the major circuits," says Raymond S. Benton, a partner in the law firm of Dell, Crainghill, Fentress and Benton and Benton and an international promotional/marketing company called ProServ Inc.
Benton and partners Donald Dell, Frank Craighill and Lee Fentress represent many diverse tennis clients -- including players, tournaments, sponsors, and television interests -- and are influential in the game's power structure. They are well placed to bring new tennis events to their hometown as the opportunities arise.
"If there was a very attractive Davis Cup match, I think we would like to strongly consider that," says Benton. "I could see the possibility, though I don't think it's a probability, of having a three-day, weekend (professional) mixed doubles tournament here. It's something we've talked about as a good fund-raiser for the patrons. I think there will continue to be a number of small celebrity tournaments in the area because of the great number of high-ranking public officials here who like to play tennis and are good tennis players."
The $250,000 Colgate Series Championships, which brought the previous season's top eight women players and top four doubles teams to Capital Centre for a January playoff the last two years, will not be back. Colgate-Palmolive has dropped its umbrella sponsorship of the women's circuit and the new sponsor, Toyota, is represented by Mark McCormack's International Management Group, the great rival of Dell, Craighill and company. Washington, consequently, is not in the running as a site for the Toyota Series Championships, which will be held in December instead of January.
The women pros still will visit the nation's capital in January, however. The $200,000 inaugural tournament of the 1982 Avon circuit, the women's winter tour, is scheduled here Jan. 4-10. The early rounds will be played at George Washington University's Smith Center and the later rounds at Capital Centre; the number of days at each site is being negotiated. An audience of 9,000 spectators is needed to make it economically worthwhile to play at Capital Centre, tournament chairman Benton said.
The Washington Star International, which will be played July 20-27 this year has become a summer fixture at the Rock Creek Tennis Stadium, 16th and Kennedy Streets NW. It likely will remain in the same week on the calendar for the forseeable future because the early part of the U.S. summer circuit is played on clay courts and the latter part on hard courts, leading into the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadow, N.Y.
The Star tournament is a "super series" event in the Volvo Grand Prix, the major men's international circuit. The current prize money standard for a "super series" tournament is $175,000 for 64 men, plus a $25,000 contribution to the year-end Grand Prix bonus pool.
If the minimum is raised, the Star tournament surely will increase its purse to retain its status, but Harris, who serves as tournament cochairman with Dell, would like to see the prize money level stay "in the $200,000 range for this year and next, and maybe move to the $225,000 to $250,000 range in 1983."
While the Star tournament always has had a representative field, and one or two of the game's leading attractions, it has not been able to lure a significant percentage of the world's top 10 players in recent years. Most of the game's superstars have been cutting back on the number of Grand Prix tournaments they enter, preferring instead to play numerous exhibitions or "special events" with small, elite fields and huge purses. The International Tennis Council, which governs the Grand Prix circuit, so far has been ineffective in curbing such events, and "super series" tournaments have consequently suffered.
Many top players have said they do not want to sweat and strain in the steamy July humidity of Washington when easy money beckons in more temperate garden spots.
The competition between tournaments for players was underscored by an advertisement the Star tournament placed in the International Tennis Weekly, the house organ of the Association of Tennis Professionals. It sought to lure high-ranking players with come-ons such as special hotel rates or free private housing, free lunches and dinners, free transportation, free movie passes and "discount dinners at some of Washington's finest restaurants."
As if the modern tennis pros weren't spoiled enough, the already fragmented and confusing men's circuit will be further muddled by Texas tycoon Lamar Hunt's recent decision to withdraw his World Championship Tennis (WCT) tournaments from the Grand Prix and incorporate them into a rival series, which is virtually certain to create a new bidding war for players. WCT is planning a series of $300,000, 32-man tournaments, each with $100,000 first prizes, with a point system leading to bonus prizes and three seasonal playoffs.
The response of the men who run the Grand Prix so far has been to stand pat, but many tournament promoters are lobbying for changes.
"In my judgment, the Grand Prix has got to be totally revamped -- not in terms of the structure (tournaments linked by a point system leading to year-end cash prizes for the top finishers, and berths in the climactic Volvo Masters Tournament), but in the way they pay the players," says Benton, who favors a redistribution of prize money to give much more to the top players and a smaller percentage to the rank-and-file. He envisions the purses for "super series" tournaments rising to $300,000 or $350,000 over the next five years, and weighted much more heavily toward the winners and runners-up.
In addition to funding a large percentage of the Washington Area Tennis Patrons' junior programs over the past 13 years, proceeds from the Star Tournament have financed construction and improvement of the facilities at 16th and Kennedy, which are built on government-owned parkland and have been turned over to the National Park Service.
The Rock Creek Tennis Stadium now has permanent seating for 6,000 spectators around the main court, and 3,000 more on the side courts. Lighting of the side courts and construction of new locker rooms and lounge were completed last year. No additional capital improvements are currently scheduled, but the facilities likely will be expanded and upgraded over the next five years.