Men’s Professional Tour (WCT)

“Lamar Hunt to me should be remembered in historical terms as having the greatest influence on the sport of tennis. Who knows how long it would have taken tennis to wake up and turn pro?”
Cliff Drysdale

1968 is a landmark year in tennis history with the official beginning of the Open Era. After decades of amateur and professional tennis co-existing as separate sports, the majors and tournament circuit began welcoming professionals into their competitions. This change altered the landscape of the game forever. The founding of World Championship Tennis (WCT) in 1967 hastened the Open Era. Lamar Hunt created WCT in 1967, signing top amateur players to professional contracts. Known as the “Handsome Eight,” the group included Pierre Barthes, Butch Buchholz, Cliff Drysdale, John Newcombe, Nikola “Niki” Pilic, Dennis Ralston, Tony Roche, and Roger Taylor. By 1971, WCT was a major force in professional men’s tennis as 32 players appeared in a total of 20 tournaments known as “The Million Dollar Tour.”

Just a few years later, in 1972, the ATP was founded. The ATP itself created a ranking system for the professional players but did not have its own tour. The ATP organized with the players, joining the Tournament Directors and the International Tennis Federation to establish the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council, which governed the other main men’s tour, Grand Prix Tennis. In 1978, the WCT merged with the Grand Prix tour, but just a few years later in 1982, the WCT broke away, largely due to frustrations with the ATP’s Men’s International Professional Tennis Council. As the WCT dwindled, the remaining tours were absorbed by the Grand Prix in 1985. However, just a few short years later the Grand Prix officially shut down with the founding of the ATP Tour in 1990.

In the 22 years of the WCT, the tour saw many iconic moments with the greatest players of the era. The first two championships, held in 1971 and 1972, featured iconic players in the beginning of the Open Era, with Ken Rosewall defeating Rod Laver in both years. Over the next few years, various players lifted the trophy, including Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, John Newcombe, and Björn Borg. The years from 1977-1985, except for Vitas Gerulaitis’s victory in 1978, were dominated by three players, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, and John McEnroe, each winning several titles. In the latter half of the 1980s, a new generation of players won the title: Anders Jarryd in 1986, Miloslav Mecir in 1987, and Boris Becker in 1988.

In a fitting manner, the final victor to hold the WCT finals trophy in 1989 was John McEnroe, when he won his fifth championship, breaking the four-title tie with Ivan Lendl.