Texas Tennis History
River Oaks Tournament
Since tennis first was played in Texas, the state has experienced a number of historic events in tennis history. The River Oaks International Tennis Tournament was founded by cotton broker Jack Norton in the early spring of 1931 at the River Oaks Country Club in Houston. Norton felt his fellow club members needed a spring tennis and garden party to help take their minds off the Great Depression.
The Houston Country Club hosted an annual prestigious golf tournament and Norton wanted River Oaks to launch a tradition of tennis excellence. He traveled to New Orleans, where the U.S. Davis Cup team was playing and recruited five of the top 10 Americans. They agreed to play in Houston for only travel expenses. The Warwick Hotel put them up for a buck a night but the tournament lost $1,500.
The tournament has gone through numerous changes over the years, always finding a way to adapt and change with the times. In 1971 the tournament was part of the Grand Prix tennis circuit. From 1973 to 1977, it was part of the World Championship Tennis circuit. Beginning in the 1980s, River Oaks was an independent tournament because the high cost of being part of the ATP circuit.
In 2008, the River Oaks International was merged with one of the oldest and last remaining clay court tournaments in the United States, the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships. The only ATP World Tour event in the U.S. played on clay, the tournament continues to be played at the tennis stadium at River Oaks.
The above picture was taken during the men's singles final of the River Oaks Tournament. "Bitsy" Grant shown in the fore-court lost to the world's champion, Bobby Riggs. This picture shows the new River Oaks tennis stadium. The new stand, which had a seating capacity of about 1,200 people, was called "the finest in the Southwest." The wing effect on each end was designed to make choice seats of the entire stadium.