Texas Tennis History
WCT in Texas
Before the beginning of the “open era,” tennis was a divided sport with professional and amateur players competing in separate events. That changed in 1968 when the British Lawn Tennis Association voted to conduct Wimbledon as an open tournament. The decision signified the dawning of a new era in professional tennis.
As television potential developed, avid sports fan and promoter Lamar Hunt, in partnership with his nephew, Al Hill Jr. and New Orleans sports entrepreneur Dave Dixon, set out to create World Championship Tennis (WCT), a new professional men’s tennis enterprise. They signed six top amateurs and two pros, marketing them as the “Handsome Eight.” They included Dennis Ralston, John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Cliff Drysdale, Earl Buchholz, Niki Pilić, Roger Taylor and Pierre Barthès.
WCT outfitted players in brightly colored clothing and introduced colored balls. It encouraged audiences to cheer loudly and implemented a tie-breaker scoring system to make tight TV scheduling possible. WCT was the first to use electronic linesmen, on-tour trainers, and full-time public relations professionals. It was also the first to establish a permanent doubles championship.
Hunt later assumed control of WCT and brought in former touring pro Mike Davies, who signed some of the world’s top players. Each agreed to play a number of tournaments each year that led to an annual, high-profile championship in Dallas. In time WCT expanded to present two simultaneous 32-player tours competing in events around the world.
The match that symbolized the WCT era was the 1972 championship in Dallas between Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver. NBC preempted three regularly-scheduled programs in an unprecedented four plus hours of live coverage. The match, which brought in a record 21 million viewers, is widely believed to be responsible for the explosive growth of tennis in the U.S. As a result, professional tennis advanced rapidly as WCT helped pave the way for future players to gain ground in the sport. Although WCT dissolved in 1990, its concept formed the foundation of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).