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Professional Tennis Comes of Age

<i>Roy Emerson joined the USPTA in 1981.
Roy Emerson joined the USPTA in 1981.
May 2017 -- From the 1920s to the 1950s, professional tennis events consisted mainly of head-to-head tours featuring the likes of Bill Tilden, Ellsworth Vines, Fred Perry, Don Budge, Bobby Riggs and Jack Kramer. These professional tours “barnstormed” throughout Middle America with portable courts, gradually educating and preparing a tennis public outside of the East Coast.

The professional tours captivated the public, but professional players were shunned by the national governing body, the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA). The USLTA realized that the success of the pro tennis tours would mean the loss of the power ­USLTA gained from organizing amateur events. Thus, professional players were excluded from USLTA tennis tournaments, including the U.S. National Championships. This was also the case in England, where professional players were excluded from playing Wimbledon at the All England Club.

Beginning in the late 1960s, Texas oil tycoon Lamar Hunt signed more and more top amateur players to professional contracts with World Championship Tennis (WCT). WCT blossomed at the country’s new indoor sports arenas, and was fueled by the growth of televised sports and the introduction of the tiebreaker, which allowed television networks to better determine the length of a match.

Before the 1960s and the success of WCT, only a few players at a time had ever turned professional – the money did not exist for more. Fearful that too many of the top players were turning professional and that Wimbledon would cease to be the world’s premier tennis tournament, the All England Club, together with the British and U.S. national governing bodies, forced “open” tennis on the International Lawn Tennis Federation in 1968. Finally, amateurs and professionals were allowed to compete together. The major federations had little choice since they all depended on the financial success of their major tournaments, and this financial success hinged on the attendance of the top players.

The success of WCT also paved the way for the formation of the current men’s pro tour – the ATP Tour. When the national federations found that their top national players were choosing WCT events over their national tournaments, the ILTF attempted to exert sanctioning power over the players. Although one national federation alone could not compete with WCT, all of them together, as the ILTF, could affect a player’s potential welfare considerably by suspending him or her from ILTF tournaments. As the national federations were fighting with WCT and reaffirming their commitment to ILTF, the players themselves saw an opportunity to have a voice in running the pro game. In 1972, several prominent players met in Forest Hills to lay the foundation for an association of players – the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).

While the ATP (and later the women’s WTA) represented the needs and desires of professional players on the world’s expanding pro circuit, USPTA focused on the needs and aspirations of club teaching professionals, instructors and coaches. The ATP, WTA and USPTA continue to work together to represent the entire spectrum of professional tennis, from club pros to touring pros.

The positive association between USPTA and the pro tours continues today. Former tour players often join USPTA following their touring years in order to develop club management skills and contacts needed to start a new career. Or vice versa – current USPTA teaching pros sometimes try their luck on the pro tour depending on their success in regional and national events.

USPTA teaching professionals work hand-in-hand with pro tournament organizers to run tennis clinics and special events at many ATP and WTA events throughout the United States. USPTA speakers have also taught business and other professionals skills at several ATP/WTA Professional Courses. These courses provide career transition services to retiring players. 

Les Longshore Jr. (1974) was a professional tennis player, coach, umpire, English teacher and distance runner. He was a cofounder of the Southern Professional Tennis Association and the Birmingham Track Club. He ran in every Vulcan Run marathon and completed 37 marathons, the last in 2002 at age 76. He was a USPTA member for 50 years.

Tex Schwab (1975) introduced during his presidency the first filing system of membership data – it was recorded on note cards and kept in small cardboard boxes. There were approximately 1,000 members at the time. He was a USPTA member for 42 years. 

Sheldon Caldwell (1976-78) was the “father of ADDvantage magazine,” which was first published in 1977. As president, his goal was to recruit more members into USPTA, and also to improve the way the association communicated with the members and the industry.

Alex Gordon (1976) served as president during a very turbulent time in USPTA’s history. Under his leadership, the board was completely revised and the USPTA began to experience unprecedented growth and progress. As a coach, he was first hired on as head professional at Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego in 1946. He taught there for 10 years and then returned again in 1960 and remained there until 1976. The San Diego resident passed away during his term as president. The Alex Gordon Professional of the Year award was named in his honor, and he was inducted posthumously into the USPTA Hall of Fame in 2007.

George Bacso (1978-80) was USPTA’s Director of Certification and Academies for many years. He traveled the world conducting Certification Exams, Tennis Teachers’ Courses and Certification Training Courses (PTCA I). Bacso was instrumental in developing the current USPTA certification process and worked with USPTA’s national tester network. He also served several years as the president of the USPTA Eastern Division. He received the USTA National Education Merit Award and the national ­USPTA Professional of the Year Award. Bacso also received the inaugural George Bacso Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998, and he held a Master Professional rating. He was inducted into the USPTA Hall of Fame in 1994.

Tim Heckler (1980-82) was USPTA’s CEO for 30 years, from 1982-2012. Prior to that, he served on the USPTA Executive Committee and national Board of Directors. He was USPTA Professional of the Year in 1979 and a Master Professional. As CEO, Heckler guided the Association through a period in which it increased its membership fivefold and its annual income tenfold, established USPTA as the foremost organization of teaching professionals in the world, and revolutionized ­USPTA’s operations through computerization. He was inducted into the USPTA Hall of Fame in 2000.

Bill Tym (1982-84) served as USPTA’s executive director of USPTA from 1975-78 and helped create a standardized certification test. Tym was named USPTA Professional of the Year in 1982, College Coach of the Year in 1989, and Touring Coach of the Year in 1997 and 2002. He also received the George Bacso Lifetime Achievement Award from the USPTA in 2001 and the International Tennis Hall of Fame Tennis Educational Merit Award in 1981. He was inducted into the USPTA Hall of Fame in 2007. 

Honorary Members
Katrina M. Adams
Pauline Betz Addie * 
Jack M. Barnaby * 
George E. Barnes * 
Bill Bell * 
Steven Bellamy 
Asher J. Birnbaum 
Mike Blanchard * 
Vic Braden * 
Jane G. Brown 
George H.W. Bush 
Mary Carillo 
Ralph E. Chambers * 
Natalie Cohen * 
Robert B. Colwell * 
Robert A. Cookson * 
Hunter L. Delatour Jr.* 
Fred A. Earle Jr.* 
Walter E. Elcock * 
Jimmy A. Evert *
Allen Fox, Ph.D. 
J. Howard Frazer 
John Gardiner * 
Lucy S. Garvin 
Sam Giammalva 
Abe Golden * 
Dick Gould 
J. Randolph Gregson * 
Alex Guerry * 
Gladys Heldman * 
Mervin A. Heller Jr.* 
Slew E. Hester Jr.* 
Franklin R. Johnson 
Gordon D. Jorgensen * 
Robert J. Kelleher * 
Billie Jean King 
Don Klotz * 
Eve F. Kraft * 
Jack Kramer * 
Robert Lansdorp 
Rod Laver 
Julia A. Levering 
Claudia Long * 
Clarence Mabry * 
George R. Mac Call * 
Dan Magill * 
Stanley Malless * 
David R. Markin *
Harry Marmion * 
Alastair B. Martin * 
Mark McCormack * 
Hilary Paul McGuire 
Walter Montenegro * 
Ed Moosbrugger * 
Jason Morton * 
Bill Mott * 
Chet  Murphy *
Chuck Norris 
Desmond Oon, Ph.D. 
Fred Perry * 
Anne M. Pittman * 
Bill Price * 
Marvin P. Richmond * 
Ted R. Schroeder * 
Alan G. Schwartz 
Pancho Segura 
Sam Shore * 
Pam Shriver 
Stan Smith 
Randy Snow * 
Lester M. Snyder Jr.* 
Tony Trabert 
Edward A. Turville * 
Welby Van Horn * 
Jon Vegosen 
Paul Waldman * 
Martina Widjaja 
Roy Wilder * 
Paul J. Xanthos * 

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