Fifty years ago this week, the first tournament of tennis' Open Era took place in Bournemouth, England at the Hard Court Championships of Great Britain. For the first time in tennis history, amateur players and professionals competed together, enabling the opportunity to earn a living playing tennis for the first time. The revolutionary change was a long time coming for the sport, as many of the world's top players had been forced to turned professional prior to this time. They were focused on playing pro circuits where they could earn a living, which prevented them from participating in tennis' biggest events. Among those who hadn't turned professional, there were rampant rumors of "shamateurism" through under the table payments and prohobited sponsorships.
The 1968 Hard Court Championships of Great Britain marked a new day for the sport. When Open Tennis was voted approved earlier in the year, top players scrambled to change their pro circuit schedules, eager to be part of the new era. More than 30,000 fans came out to see the competition, with Australia's Ken Rosewall lifting the men's trophy and Britian's Virigina Wade winning on the women's side. Rosewall earned $2,400 in prize money, while runner-up Rod Laver received $1,200. Wade would have taken home $720 in prize money, but she declined as she was still an amateur at the time, therefore becoming the first amateur to win a title in the Open Era.
Take a peak below for video footage from the historic event and a special item from the tournament that we proudly count among our museum collection.
With the advent of the Open Era, broadcasts, sponsorship, and publicity boomed, and the sport evolved into the global sensation that we know and love today. As tennis historian Richard Evans wrote in his book, Open Tennis: “In a few short years professional tennis had grown from a backwater pastime into an industry that…became the fashion-leader of a life-style and a byword for excitement, fitness and consumer spending.”
Want to learn more about this pivotal time in tennis history? Be sure to visit the Museum at the ITHF this summer for a special exhibit celebrating 50 Years of Open Tennis!
Ken Rosewall defeated Rod Laver, 3–6, 6–2, 6–0, 6–3, at the 1968 British Hard Court Championships to win the first tournament title in tennis' Open Era. (Photo: AP Images)
This event program from the 1968 Hard Court Championships of Great Britain is one of 2,700 tournament programs from tennis tournaments around the world that are held in the archives at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The historic publications date back well over 100 years, containing stories of inspiration and accomplishment from some of the sport's greatest champions, and when looked at collectively, clearly chronicling how the sport has evolved and grown over the years. The Hall of Fame is currently in the midst of an extensive project to digitze the entire museum collection, with our vast array of books and publications to be incorporated into this process over time. Through a digitized museum collection, we strive to share the inspiring stories of tennis history with fans around the globe. Learn more. >