What Is The Open Era In Tennis And When It Started?

What Is The Open Era In Tennis And When It Started?

by Nurein Ahmed

The Open Era in tennis is symbolic of shaping the sport into what we know today as modern-day tennis.

It put an end to the tennis divide and heralded the start of tennis as a fully-fledged professional sport. The birth of Open Era tennis happened in 1968. And as the name suggests, 'Open' was to allow for inclusivity for amateur and professional tennis players to compete in all Grand Slam tournaments and earn prize money for their efforts.

The period before the Open Era was called Amateur Era, and the four Grand Slams, namely, Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and US Open, only allowed amateurs and not professionals to play in them. Amateurs did not make money and competed for pride and prestige. They were prohibited from taking money or compensation in any other form.

Professional tennis players regularly competed in head-to-head tours instead of tournaments and made a living for it. At the time, the number of professional tournaments was incredibly minuscule, and pros made more money on tours than playing actual tournaments.

"It's unfair to call it amateur tennis in the 60s. I call it 'Shamateur' tennis because it was a total sham, that we were getting paid under table. It wasn't a lot of fun."

Billie Jean King on amateur tennis

A case in point is how former British number one Fred Perry made roughly $91,000 playing the 1937 North American tour against American Ellsworth Vines, but only earned a measly $450 winning the now-defunct U.S. Pro Tennis Championships in 1938.

The wheels were put in motion for a massive change to end what was called 'the living lie' of amateur tennis. A one-off Wimbledon pro tournament in 1967 acted as a forerunner of what was to come in 1968, with eight of the world's leading professional male players taking part.

The LTA and AELTC unanimously agreed to pass a motion to open the Championships for all. The first Open Era event was held in April at West Hants Tennis Club in Bournemouth, England, with players such as Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver leading the line, while the first Grand Slam tournament was the 1968 French Open.

Despite significant challenges at the start, as is always the case when change is instituted, the ATP and WTA were eventually formed in the early part of the 1970s to govern the interest of both the men's and women's tours. Although both operate independently, they have worked and collaborated in the growth of tennis as a sport.


You may also like