Saturday School: Behind the birth of the ATP World Tour

44 years ago, Jack Kramer, the World No.1 of the 1940s and 1950s came up with the idea of a tennis association no one had thought about. He sought the assistance of Donald Dell and Cliff Drysdale and established the All Tennis Professionals(ATP).
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Jack Kramer
The notion of ATP was a good one, but it lacked the financial support to make itself the supreme in the tennis circuit. As a result, the ATP had to team up with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council(MIPTC).
The MIPTC monitored and governed the tennis circuit from 1974 to 1989. Despite its long run, the players were unhappy with the exhausting and unorganized events they had to play. The players’ voice was turned up in 1986. Officials realized that current scenario was not acceptable.
“The players were concerned that they didn’t have an equitable voice in the running of the sport and they were also looking for a way to better promote a game that we felt was being under-promoted.”
– Brian Gottfried
Ever since Kramer founded the ATP in 1972, it didn’t get its deserves recognition for more than a decade. What players and the people didn’t know that time was that a 42-year-old man was all set to revolutionize tennis. He had joined the ATP as its Chief Executive Officer in 1987. He served as the White House Chief of Staff to Jimmy Carter. Hamilton Jordan stepped was all set to implement his brainchild – The ATP world Tour.
“Even though there were many qualified people Hamilton blew us all away with his presentation. He had obviously done his homework and had taken a month to visit and interview many of the prominent people in the tennis industry. He spoke to agents, television executives, the ITF, the Slams, tournament directors, and players and he gave us a storyboard presentation of the steps he would take and a timeline for getting his vision accomplished. We figured that if he could figure out a way to deal with the Middle East politics then he would be able to handle the tennis world.”
– Harold Solomon
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Hamilton Jordan
To understand the player’s needs and to overpower the current ruling organizations, the tennis world needed the nerves of a person with a perfect blend of political and knowledge of the global tennis. Hamilton Jordan was just the perfect fit.
“He saw it as a political campaign rather than an administrative role. Shortly after he took the role, he spoke to the top players, former players, Ray Moore and Charlie Pasarell, who although tournament directors at the time, ha a great experience. Hamilton felt that tennis was not the major sport it should be. He felt it should be run like the PGA Tour [golf], and he felt that the players should break away and start their own tour. He ran it like a political campaign. Building constituencies, getting them excited about his vision. It definitely had a campaign atmosphere.”
– Brad Harris
Jordan’s first major step was to convince and coax the players to leave the MTC and join the ATP. He assured the players that they will be given enough rests in between the tournaments and more power and more money will be given to them. How political!
During the grass court season of 1988, Hamilton tried to calm down the situation between the players and the organizations. In vain.
Hamilton’s next attack came just two days before the US open in the same year. Enough players had agreed with Jordan to set up the ATP circuit. Many of them had broken away from the MTC. Taking advantage of this, Hamilton threatened the MTC that the ATP will no longer be in relation unless players are given more control. Players signed this plea. But, it was ITF, the grandfather of all tennis organizations who canceled the plea.
The final full throttle move by Hamilton came during the US Open. Except for Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl, eight of the top ten players at that time had responded in affirmation to become full-time members of the ATP.
Hamilton decided to have a press conference. The venue he selected was a parking lot. Officials of the USTA were ready to give them a room but Hamilton turned it down. Probably he thought of making the conference iconic.
“The conference was ‘just-enough’ organized to make it feel real, but also have a sense of a rebellion, a sense of authenticity.”
– Tim Mayotte
On the morning of the conference, IBM hinted to be the sponsor if at all the tour was finalized. A podium was immediately brought and the logo of ATP was made on it with a duct tape. Moments later, Hamilton delivered his “Tennis at crossroads” speech. Ricardo Acuna, Russell Barlow, Charlie Beckman, Dan Goldie, Tim Mayotte, Paul McNamee were some of the players who witnessed the speech held outside the main gates of US open. By the end of the speech, 16 of the top 20 players agreed to join the ATP.
“We got them to sign an agreement, but the funny thing was nobody had a pen. So they all had to sign the agreement in pencil.”
– Brad Harris
Today in any major tennis tournament you would see the words ATP WORLD TOUR patterned on the net. The statistics and sometimes the time that denotes the length of the tournament are provided by IBM. Had it not been the vision of Hamilton Jordan, we would never have had a meticulous calendar of tennis events and the rights and powers that lied with the players.
Currently, the ATP is led by its Chairman Chris Kermode and vice chairman Mark Young. The duo has played a brilliant role in making sure the successful ascend of ATP does not cease.

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