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.
Frank Fuhrer (1975)
Larry King (1976)
Butch Buchholz (1976-78)
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
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.
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).
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.
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
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.