Texas Tennis History
World Team Tennis
World Team Tennis (WTT) was founded in 1973 by Dennis Murphy, Dick Butera, Fred Barman, Jordan Kaiser and attorney and promoter Larry King, who each organized and owned the various participating teams. In 1974, Billie Jean King began the first WTT season by securing the professional women tennis players while Dr. Leonard Bloom, Arthur Ashe and Wilt Chamberlain secured the professional men tennis players.
The league began play in May 1974, with 16 teams: Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo-Toronto, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Florida (Miami), San Diego/Hawaii, Houston, Los Angeles, Minnesota (Minneapolis-St.Paul), New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. The co-ed teams played a 44-game season over the course of four months. Matches were played at large NBA and NHL arenas, however, crowds were usually in the low thousands.
Houston E-Z Riders
The Houston E-Z Riders was a charter franchise of World Team Tennis founded by husband and wife E.Z. and Betty Jones. The Houston E-Z Riders played 18 of its 22 home matches at the Sam Houston Coliseum in Houston and the other four at the HemisFair Arena in San Antonio. The team was coached by Trinity University's Clarence Mabry. The roster included Bill Bowrey, Lesley Bowrey, Cynthia Doerner, Peter Doerner, Helen Gourlay Cawley, Karen Krantzcke, Bob McKinley, John Newcombe and Dick Stockton. Due to financial problems, the team only lasted one season and by 1978 the entire league went out of business.
Billie Jean King helped re-launch a much more modest version of World Team Tennis in 1981. Rosters were reduced to four players (two men, two women) and the season was scaled back to twelve matches over a three-week period each summer. Although a handful of teams continued to rent out giant buildings such as the Oakland Coliseum and Dallas’ Reunion Arena, most of the new generation owners held matches at country clubs.
The Houston Astro-Knots was a short-lived franchise during the early 1980s re-boot of World Team Tennis. The team was owned by long-time tennis promoter George Liddy, who also promoted the $100,000 Avon Tennis Championships of Houston that were staged at the Houston Summit in the early 1980s. During the 1982 season, the Astro-Knots four-person co-ed team consisted of John Austin, Rosalyn Fairbank, Bruce Nichols and Wendy White. Billie Jean King’s long-time mixed doubles partner Owen Davidson of Australia served as the team's coach. The Astro-Knots returned for a second season in 1983. The team consisted of Tony Giammalva, Yvonne Vermaak, Kim Warwick and Nancy Yeargin.
The Dallas Stars ran from 1982-1983 and played at Reunion Arena. Their roster was headlined by South African and former Texas Longhorn NCAA champion Kevin Curren. Curren went on to win the Men’s Doubles championship at the U.S. Open in the summer of 1982, paired with his college doubles partner and Dallas Stars teammate Steve Denton. Other Stars players included Zina Garrison, Joanne Russell, Anne Smith and Sharon Walsh-Pete. The Stars won the league title in 1982, defeating the Phoenix Sunsets in the playoff final. The 1983 season, coached by Dick Stockton, included Mike Estep, Stockton and Wendy White. The Stars folded after their second season in 1983.
Corpus Christi Advantage
In 1986, Corpus Christi had a team in what was then called the Domino Team Tennis League. The Chamber of Commerce selected the name Corpus Christi Advantage. The team was coached by Chris Crawford and the assistant coach was Virginia Brown. Home matches were played at a special stadium court at the Corpus Christi Athletic Club. The roster included: Sandy Collins, Dave Dowlen, Ann Henricksson and Terry Moor. The 1986 Team Tennis season lasted only one month, from July 10 to August 10. The team did not return for the 1986 season.
San Antonio Racquets
The San Antonio Racquets were a long-standing WTT club. They won two league championships (1986 and 1989) during their ten-year run in the league. Racquets principal backer Leo Rose was a former owner of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. Clarence Mabry coached the team from 1986-1988, followed by Karl Coombes (1989) and Bob McKinley (1990-1994). Top players included Australian Kim Warwick, a 1980 Australian Open singles finalist and Sammy Giammalva. The San Antonio Racquets folded following the 1994 season. Texas did not have a team again until 2005.
After many years of supporting and sponsoring local sports teams and events in Houston, Jim and Linda McIngvale, owners of Gallery Furniture and the Westside Tennis Club, founded a new franchise in 2005 to bring professional team tennis back to Houston. The team was called the Houston Wranglers and played at the Westside Tennis Club. As is customary in WTT, the Wranglers encouraged all their fans to enjoy this brand of tennis by making noise and cheering on the team. The Wranglers were the only team in the league with cheerleaders. Notable team members included Mardy Fish and Steffi Graf. The Wranglers never had a winning season and never qualified for the WTT playoffs. It folded after the 2007 season, citing a lack of fan interest.
The Texas Wild played at the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Las Colinas, just outside of Dallas. The team was known as the Kansas City Explorers from 1993 until the 2012 season, before moving to Texas. Notable players included Eugenie Bouchard and the Bryan Brothers. In February 2015, WTT announced that a new ownership group had taken control of the Wild and moved the team to Citrus Heights, California, renaming it the California Dream.
The Austin Aces had a brief run in Austin in 2014 and 2015. Tech entrepreneur Lorne Abony purchased WTT’s Orange County Breakers franchise in late 2013 and arranged to move the team to Austin. The Aces’ top attractions in 2014 were former World No. 1 men’s player Andy Roddick and 2013 Wimbledon women’s singles champion Marion Bartoli. The Aces played seven home matches at the indoor Cedar Park Center near Austin in 2014. The Aces returned in 2015 without Roddick or Bartoli and played at a new venue, Gregory Gym on the campus of the University of Texas. Even though the Aces had the best record (12-2) in the 2015 WTT regular season, without star power, attendance dropped. In December 2015 the team announced it would return to its old home in Newport Beach, California and take back its former Orange County Breakers identity for the 2016 season.
Other notable Texas WTT players include: Cliff Drysdale (Florida Flamingos, San Diego Friars, Anaheim Oranges), Owen Davidson (Hawaii Leis, Boston Bays, Minnesota Buckskins), Lori McNeil (Vail Eagles, Witchita Advantage, Kansas City Explorers, Delaware Smash), Bill Scanlon (Boston Bays, New Jersey Stars), Beverly Bowes (San Antonio Racquets), Virginia Brown (Coach: Fresno Sun-Nets and Miami Beach Breakers). Dennis Ralston (San Diego Friars, Los Angeles Strings, Hawaii Leis), Richey Reneberg (Sacramento Capitals), Cliff Richey (Cleveland Nets), Sherwood Stewart (Seattle Cascades, California Oranges, Los Angeles Strings, Charlotte Heat, Seattle Cascades).