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World Team Tennis

By Patrick Mondout

World Team Tennis was a team-based professional tennis league with franchises in several cities which lasted from 1974-1978. It was the forerunner of the modern World TeamTennis league.

At a glance...
LEAGUE FACTS
Established 1973
Folded 1979
Commissioners Jordan Kaiser (1974)
Frank Fuhrer (1975)
Larry King (1976)
Butch Buchholz (1976-78)
FRANCHISES
Anaheim Oranges
Baltimore Banners
Boston Lobsters
Buffalo Royals
Chicago Aces
Cleveland Nets
Denver Racquets
Detroit Loves
Florida Flamingos
Hawaii Leis
Houston E-Z Riders
Indiana Loves
Los Angeles Strings
Minnesota Buckskins
New Orleans Nets
New York Apples
New York Sets
Pennsylvania Keystones
Philadelphia Freedoms
Phoenix Racquets
Pittsburgh Triangles
Pittsburgh Nets
San Diego Fliers
San Diego Friars
San Francisco Golden Gaters
Seattle Cascades
Portland Cascades
Soviets
Toronto Royals
CHAMPIONS
1974  Denver Racquets
1975  Pittsburgh Triangles
1976  New York Sets
1977  New York Apples
1978  Los Angeles Strings

Pittsburgh businessman Chuck Reichblum came up with the idea in 1973 and put the league together with the help of local attorney Bill Sutton. They called their league the National Tennis League (NTL) began hitting the road looking to sell franchises when reigning tennis queen Billie Jean King suddenly announced similar plans.

See also WTT Results:  1974 1975 1976 1977 1978

Billie Jean Moffitt and her future husband, Larry King, thought of the idea for a professional team tennis league while attending Los Angeles State College in 1962. King and a group of businessmen announced plans for the International Professional Tennis League (IPTL).

The two groups met and World Team Tennis was born. The teams would play in the summer months and take time off for Wimbledon and be finished before the start of the U.S. Open.

Predictably, not everyone was happy with the new league. French Open officials initially barred all players who had WTT contracts from participating. French officials were concerned that the summer league would ruin the summer tournament season, which included the French Open. In fact, the rule cost Jimmy Connors a chance at a Grand Slam.

The inaugural season was played by 16 teams from May to August of 1974. The seasons were interrupted to allow players to compete in major events (such as Wimbledon).

Keeping Score

Scoring was kept on a no-ad basis unlike the traditional love-15-30-40. Matches consisted of five sets: men's and women's singles and doubles plus mixed doubles. Scores for the five sets were added and the team with the most points won a match, making each game in each set - even if an overmatched player was down a hopeless 5-0 - important. The rules were changed midseason resulting in one set each of women's and men's singles plus women's and men's doubles and mixed doubles.

Innovation

As with all the brash new leagues of recent years (ABA, WHA, WFL), tradition was largely ignored in favor of innovation and fan-friendly rule changes. The women's movement was big at the time and this league featured teams consisting of both sexes and even female coaches, such as King, presiding over male players. The league also went with colorful uniform and tennis balls, in stark contrast to what could be found at Wimbledon. Cheering rather than polite and subdued applause was also encouraged. The league even allowed player substitution during matches.

As with most new leagues, attracting paying fans, securing a TV contract, signing top players, and, perhaps most importantly, having patient owners willing to absorb losses, were the major issues for the fledgling league.

The league charged between $4-$10 per ticket, which left many to avoid the games altogether and it failed to land a major TV contract.

The league did attract some of the best players in the world: Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Vitas Gerulaitis, Evonne Goolagong, Rod Laver and his nemesis Billie Jean King, Ilie Nastase, Rosie Casals, John Newcombe, Virginia Wade and Roy Emerson all played at one time or another for a WTT franchise.

The league was not particularly well run with four league presidents in four years and the joke in early 1976 was that the league would hire Sid Caesar so that they could claim they had had a Kaiser (Jordan), Fuhrer (Frank), King (Larry), and a Caesar as president.

Following the 1978 season, every team but two folded. A confident WTT announced that it had added teams in Dallas, Los Angeles and San Diego, but after five seasons of mounting losses, the World Team Tennis league ceased operations on March 8, 1979.

Rising From The Ashes

Billie Jean King would get a new league going in 1981, but with tighter budgets and lesser-known players. It was known as Team Tennis for the first few years before Dominos Pizza stepped in with corporate sponsorship. It evolved into what is now known as World TeamTennis and the new league now even claims the old WTT as part of its heritage.

 

 

WTT CHAMPS

1974: Denver Racquets

1975: Pittsburgh Triangles

1976: New York Sets

1977: New York Apples

1978: Los Angeles Strings


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World Team Tennis Programs!
World Team Tennis Media Guides!

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