Hall of Famer Mike Davies, a influential tennis executive credited with paving the way for today's professional tennis tours, among his many contributions to the sport, passed away peacefully at home today following an extended illness. He was 79 years old.
After a successful pre-Open Era playing career which included reaching the No.1 national ranking in Great Britain, Davies had a 40+ year career in tennis promotion and administration. His achievements ranged from forging the first, highly successful television/tennis contracts and negotiating major sponsorships to introducing the colored tennis ball to the game.
Davies held positions including Executive Director of World Championship Tennis (WCT); Marketing Director and then Executive Director for the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP); and General Manager of the International Tennis Federation (ITF). He also served as CEO of Pilot Pen Tennis, now known as the Connecticut Open.
In recognition of his many contributions to the growth of the sport, Davies was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012.
"Mike Davies was a special guy and he will be sorely missed as a both a leader in our sport and a great friend," said Hall of Fame President Stan Smith, who was a former WCT player. "He was a visionary and a highly effective leader. He saw the potential that tennis could have to become a viable, successful professional sport. He worked creatively and steadfastly to make it happen in a way that was advantageous for players, promoters, sponsors, broadcasters, and fans alike. Our sport is what it is today because of Mike's leadership."
From 1968-1981, Davies served as Executive Director of World Championship Tennis, an innovative professional tour that catapulted pro tennis into the spotlight to fans worldwide. While leading the WCT, Davies was at the forefront of staging tournaments and selling sponsorships and television rights, thereby creating a platform for professional tennis to expand into large stadiums and major cities. The group contracted top professional players including Rod Laver, Cliff Drysdale, Roy Emerson, Tony Roche, and Stan Smith. In 1970, WCT launched the first multi-million dollar tour, which consisted of 20 tournaments throughout the world and culminated in a final that aired on NBC - the very first network broadcast of tennis. The airing drew an extraordinary 20 million viewers and tennis interest surged.
During his 13 years as Executive Director, Davies initiated a number of tennis firsts. In addition to the broadcast, Davies introduced colored clothing on players and the yellow colored tennis ball that is now the sport's standard, so that television viewers at home could better distinguish between the competitors and follow the path of the ball. Davies also introduced other innovations and rules to the game that are now standards in today's tournaments, including the rules of 30 seconds between points and 90 seconds between games, and chairs on the court for the players during changeovers.
In the 1980s, Davies moved on to serve as Executive Director of the ATP and then as General Manager of the ITF, putting both organizations on firm financial footing during his tenure and facilitating many other positive changes, including increased prize money and more tournaments for ATP players.
From 1997-2013 Davies served as CEO of Pilot Pen Tennis, now known as the Connecticut Open, establishing the tournament as one of New England's premier professional sporting events.
Originally from Swansea, Wales, Davies began his lifelong tennis career as a player at the age of 11, when he was discovered as a young talent by British legend and Hall of Famer Fred Perry. He was Britain's No. 1 ranked player in the 1957, 1959, and 1960, and he was a member of the British Davis Cup team. In 1960, Davies reached the men's doubles final at Wimbledon with Bobby Wilson, and until 2012 it marked the last time a British male has been in the final of Wimbledon Gentlemen's singles or doubles.
Davies is survived by his wife, Mina, four children, and four grandchildren.