National Tennis League - History


The National Tennis League (NTL) was formed by former U.S. Davis Cup captain George MacCall in 1967, as a governing body to a US Professional tennis tour. It was key in moving tennis from a mostly amateur sport to a professional sport.

Proposals for Open Tennis were always defeated by conservative elements within the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF—later the ITF). In 1967, however, two new professional groups were formed: the National Tennis League (NTL), founded by former U.S. Davis Cup captain George MacCall, and World Championship Tennis (WCT), co-founded by New Orleans Sports Promotor, David Dixon, and Lamar Hunt.

Billie Jean King has had a career of firsts. In 1968, she was the first woman of the Open Era to sign a pro contract to tour in a female tournament group with Rosie Casals, Françoise Dürr and Ann Haydon-Jones as the women's auxiliary of the National Tennis League. It also included six men Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Pancho Gonzales, Andrés Gimeno, Fred Stolle and Roy Emerson. "On April 1, 1968, we signed with the National Tennis League, as George MacCall's troupe was called. Frankie (Durr) and Rosie (Casals) received a guarantee of $20,000 per annum for two years, mine (Ann Haydon-Jones) was $25,000 and Billie Jean King's was $40,000. George envisaged us playing a lot of matches and tournaments amongst ourselves and did not expect us to be as much involved in open tennis as later proved to be the case....We joined the six men that he already controlled - Emerson, Laver, Gimeno, Gonzales, Rosewall and Stolle. A group of ten was an attractive proposition to offer and he believed he was going to do very well from it. His main problem was one of administration. He had to keep flying all over the world to tie up arrangements with the various associations but didn't leave sufficient time to organize his professional tours in America, the most important part of the operation, and didn't seem to be able of willing to delegate."—From A Game to Love by Ann Jones. Published 1971 by Stanley Paul & Co Ltd; p. 135 and 136

George MacCall served as U.S. Davis Cup Captain from 1965 to 1967, when he had Arthur Ashe, Dennis Ralston and Marty Riessen on his squad. During that time, MacCall organized a professional tennis circuit, the National Tennis League. Tennis still largely comprised amateurs at the time, but MacCall convinced some of tennis' biggest names, including Ashe, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Stan Smith, to take part in his pro circuit, despite the fear that they could be shut out of Wimbledon, which at that point was an amateur event. The players were able to play Wimbledon while keeping their prize money. It launched a new era in tennis.

Nevertheless, except for the 1969 and 1971 tournaments, many of the best players missed this championship until 1982, because of the remoteness, the inconvenient dates (around Christmas and New Year's Day), and the low prize money — in 1970 the National Tennis League (NTL), which employed Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Andrés Gimeno, Pancho Gonzales, Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle, prevented its players from entering the tournament because the guarantees were insufficient, and the tournament was ultimately won by Arthur Ashe. By 1967, most consummate professionals were contracted to either the National Tennis League (NTL) run by George MacCall or WCT, Dave Dixon's and Lamar Hunt's baby. This caused problems in its own right, the promoters could effectively hold the tennis world to ransom by deciding whether their charges would play at a tournament or not, depending on the amount of money up for grabs.

Both professional bodies, the NTL and WCT, banned their contracted players from contesting the grand slams at some stage during their short tenure and this made the International Lawn Tennis Federation, the predecessor of the current ITF, very nervous. That was the catalyst that led to the abandonment of the distinction between amateur and professional tennis players and by 1968, the beginning of the Open Era, all tennis players could compete in all tennis tournaments! George MacCall sold the NTL to Lamar Hunt in early 1970. He later became the first Commissioner of World Team Tennis in 1974. Some of the players he signed to contracts were: Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, Pancho Gonzales, Fred Stolle, Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals and many more. He traveled the world to sign players. Many tournaments had to get their players through George.

What happened in 1968 was in many ways nothing more than the culmination of the sins of previous years, starting in 1930 with Bill Tilden, and was the result of the chaotic state in which world tennis found itself as it makes the awkward transition from an amateur sport to professional entertainment. The two touring professional groups, Lamar Hunt's World Championship Tennis and Tennis Champions, Inc. (formerly the National Tennis League), run by George MacCall want nothing to do with the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, which presumes to run the game in this country. The USLTA is governed by committee, and is factionalized and fractionalized, mainly into anti-professional and pro-professional groups. The Association cries out for leadership, but when strong personalities do emerge, such as Presidents Bob Kelleher and Alastair Martin, they are all too often reduced to ineffective power brokers for the 42-man Executive Committee.

"Our contract was to play for 10 months of the year, but out of that we had one further month off, on location so to speak... In the end we played for about eight months".--From A Game to Love by Ann Jones. Published 1971 by Stanley Paul & Co Ltd; p. 144

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