professional tennis

Major professional tennis tournaments before the Open Era

Before the beginning of the Open era in 1968 only amateurs were allowed to compete in mainstream tennis tournaments, including the four Grand Slams. However some top players turned professional, and played in separate professional events, mostly on tours involving head-to-head competition.

The major professional tournaments before 1968

The professional circuit being (much) less popular than the traditional amateur circuit before 1968, any pro tournament could be cancelled at any time due to poor attendances. Therefore there was no real tradition in the pro circuit.

Now there is a real tradition prevailing : since 1995 (and perhaps even 1983), the events hierarchy has been very clear : Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open, the Australian Open. And then far behind these are the Tennis Masters Cup and the Davis Cup.

But before 1968 the events hierarchy changed each year. In 1934 the US Pro was a high-class tournament with all the best pro players and in 1936 this same tournament was just a meeting between pro teachers without any leading pro players.

Consequently for a given year a pro tournament was a major one when it attracted the best pro players and then another year this same tournament could be a second-rank tournament because few or no leading players came.

Before the open era in addition to numerous small tournaments and head-to-head tours between the leading professionals, there were some major tournaments which stood out at different periods. Some survived sporadically because of financial collapses and other temporarily stood out when other great tournaments weren't held. Examples of these include:

  • the Bristol Cup (held on the French Riviera at Menton or at Cannes or at Beaulieu) in the twenties
  • the Queen's Club Pro (just in 1928)
  • the Southport tournament called the International Pro Championship of Britain from 1935 through 1939
  • the World Pro Championships in Berlin in the thirties
  • the U.S Pro hardcourt in LA in 1945 (which was the only significant pro tournament of the last year of World War II)
  • Philadelphia 1950-1952
  • the Tournament of Champions held in Los Angeles in 1956 and at Forest Hills next years (when it didn't merge with the U.S. Pro)
  • some Masters Pro Round Robin in Los Angeles (1957, 1958)
  • the Australian Pro (there were just three editions in 1954, 1957 and 1958)
  • Madison Square Garden Pro (1966, 1967)
  • Wimbledon Pro (1967)
  • ...and some other Australian pro or South African pro tournaments.

There were also some team events modeled on Davis Cup such as the Bonnardel Cup in the thirties and the Kramer Cup (1961-1963) that had large fields

Nevertheless three tournaments survived more or less with sometimes all the cream of the leading players, and other times with very depleted fields, and therefore these tournaments held a certain tradition. They were called "championship tournaments". The most prestigious of the three was generally the London Indoor Professional Championship. Played between 1934 and 1990, at Wembley in England, it was unofficially usually considered the world's championship until 1967. The oldest of the three was the United States Professional Championship, played between 1927 and 1999. Between 1954 and 1962 it was played indoors in Cleveland and was called the World Professional Championships. The third major tournament was the French Professional Championship, played between 1934 (and perhaps before but the data are unclear) and 1968, generally at Roland Garros. The British and American championships continued into the Open era but devolved to the status of minor tournaments. The winner and runner-up in each of these tournaments will be shown for the years in which they were played.

These three tournaments (Wembley Pro, French Pro and U.S. Pro) until 1967 included are sometimes referred as the professional Grand Slam tournaments by tennis historians as Robert Geist in "DER GRÖSSTE MEISTER Die denkwürdige Karriere des australischen Tennisspielers Kenneth Robert Rosewall" or Raymond Lee in his "Greatest Player of All time: A Statistical Analysis" article ( ).

Thus for a given year these three championships could be the greatest events as in 1964 or could not as in 1959 when the greatest tournaments were probably the Forest Hills Pro, the Masters Pro in Los Angeles and almost all the Australian tournaments ahead of Wembley Pro, the French Pro or the U.S. Pro (held at Cleveland that year).

The three major professional tournaments

In addition to head-to-head events there were several annual professional tournaments that were called championship tournaments. The most prestigious was the Wembley Professional Championship at Wembley in England, played between 1934 and 1990, that was unofficially considered the world's championship through 1967. The oldest was the United States Professional Championship, played between 1927 and 1999. Between 1955 and 1962, it was played indoors in Cleveland and was called the World Professional Championships. The third major tournament was the French Professional Championship, played between 1930 and 1968. The British and American championships continued into the Open era but devolved to the status of minor tournaments.

These three tournaments until 1967 are referred as the professional Grand Slam tournaments by tennis historians as Robert Geist in "DER GRÖSSTE MEISTER Die denkwürdige Karriere des australischen Tennisspielers Kenneth Robert Rosewall" or Raymond Lee in his "Greatest Player of All time: A Statistical Analysis" article

The status of the Wembley Championships of 1936 and 1938 is unclear. Two of the three major sources for the professional championships list the results as shown below. Ray Bowers' History of professional tennis says that neither of these tournaments ever occurred and offers substantiating evidence for his assertion.

Wembley Championship

This tournament was called the "London Indoor Professional Championships" from 1951 through 1967. In 1968, it was called the "Kramer Tournament of Champions." From 1969 through 1971, the tournament was called the "British Covered Court Championships." Finally, it was called the "Benson & Hedges Tournament" beginning in 1976.

Year Winner Runner-up
1934 Ellsworth Vines Hans Nusslein
1935 Ellsworth Vines Bill Tilden
1936 possibly not held Ellsworth Vines Hans Nusslein
1937 Hans Nusslein Bill Tilden
1938 possibly not held Hans Nusslein Bill Tilden
1939 Don Budge Hans Nüsslein
not held
1949 Jack Kramer Bobby Riggs
1950 Pancho Gonzales Welby Van Horn
1951 Pancho Gonzales Pancho Segura
1952 Pancho Gonzales Jack Kramer
1953 Frank Sedgman Pancho Gonzales
not held
1956 Pancho Gonzales Frank Sedgman
1957 Ken Rosewall Pancho Segura
1958 Frank Sedgman Tony Trabert
1959 Mal Anderson Pancho Segura
1960 Ken Rosewall Pancho Segura
1961 Ken Rosewall Lew Hoad
1962 Ken Rosewall Lew Hoad
1963 Ken Rosewall Lew Hoad
1964 Rod Laver Ken Rosewall
1965 Rod Laver Andres Gimeno
1966 Rod Laver Ken Rosewall
1967 Rod Laver Ken Rosewall
1968 Ken Rosewall John Newcombe
1969 Rod Laver Tony Roche
1970 Rod Laver Cliff Richey
1971 Ilie Năstase Rod Laver
not held
1976 Jimmy Connors Roscoe Tanner
1977 Björn Borg John Lloyd
1978 John McEnroe Tim Gullikson
1979 John McEnroe Harold Solomon
1980 John McEnroe Gene Mayer
1981 Jimmy Connors John McEnroe
1982 John McEnroe Brian Gottfried
1983 John McEnroe Jimmy Connors
1984 Ivan Lendl Andres Gomez
1985 Ivan Lendl Boris Becker
1986 Yannick Noah Jonas Svensson
1987 Ivan Lendl Anders Jarryd
1988 Jakob Hlasek Jonas Svensson
1989 Michael Chang Guy Forget
1990 Jakob Hlasek Michael Chang

United States Pro Championship

The U.S. Pro Championship, also U.S. Pro, was an annual tournament. It has also been known as MFS Pro Championships. The first was organized by player Vinny Richards when promoter C.C. Pyle withdrew interest in the project. It was played on the Notlek courts located at 119th Street and Riverside Drive, Manhattan. The following four editions were played at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens. The next five were played at various clubs in Chicago and New York.

From 1937 to 1941 a tournament was held at the Greenbrier Golf and Tennis Club, White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia and called the U.S. Open, as it was open to both pros and amateurs. Because of their participation the latter were later officially barred from future U.S.L.T.A. amateur competition. The 1937 edition of the U.S. Open is also viewed as the U.S. Pro. The U.S. Pro was then played in Chicago or Los Angeles until the 1940s, the 1946 through '49 events played at the West Side in Forest Hills.

From 1950 to 1964 promoter Jack March organized an annual tournament called the World Pro Championship that was held at different sites in Cleveland: in 1950 and from 1952 to 1962 the tournament served as the U.S. Pro. Between 1954 and 1962 it was played indoors at the Cleveland Arena. After playing the 1963 edition at the West Side the tournament had a permanent home at the Longwood Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, where it was played from 1964 through 1995 and from 1997 to 1999.

The following are the pre-Open tennis results for the U.S. Pro Championship:

Year Winner Runner-up
1927 Vincent Richards Howard Kinsey
1928 Vincent Richards Karel Koželuh
1929 Karel Koželuh Vincent Richards
1930 Vincent Richards Karel Koželuh
1931 Bill Tilden Vincent Richards
1932 Karel Koželuh Hans Nusslein
1933 Vincent Richards Frank Hunter
1934 Hans Nusslein Karel Koželuh
1935 Bill Tilden Karel Koželuh
1936 Joe Whalen Charles Wood
1937 Karel Koželuh Bruce Barnes
1938 Fred Perry Bruce Barnes
1939 Ellsworth Vines Fred Perry
1940 Don Budge Fred Perry
1941 Fred Perry Dick Skeen
1942 Don Budge Bobby Riggs
1943 Bruce Barnes John Nogrady
1944 not held
1945 Welby Van Horn John Nogrady
1946 Bobby Riggs Don Budge
1947 Bobby Riggs Don Budge
1948 Jack Kramer Bobby Riggs
1949 Bobby Riggs Don Budge
1950 Pancho Segura Frank Kovacs
1951 Pancho Segura Pancho Gonzales
1952 Pancho Segura Pancho Gonzales
1953 Pancho Gonzales Don Budge
1954 Pancho Gonzales Frank Sedgman
1955 Pancho Gonzales Pancho Segura
1956 Pancho Gonzales Pancho Segura
1957 Pancho Gonzales Pancho Segura
1958 Pancho Gonzales Lew Hoad
1959 Pancho Gonzales Lew Hoad
1960 Alex Olmedo Tony Trabert
1961 Pancho Gonzales Frank Sedgman
1962 Butch Buchholz Pancho Segura
1963 Ken Rosewall Rod Laver
1964 Rod Laver Pancho Gonzales
1965 Ken Rosewall Rod Laver
1966 Rod Laver Ken Rosewall
1967 Rod Laver Andres Gimeno

French Pro Championship

In 1930 the "Association Française des Professeurs de Tennis (AFPT)" held its first pro tournament, entitled "Championnat International de France Professionnel" (French Pro Championships) in June, 18-22, 1930 .

From 1930 the French Pro Championship were always played at Paris, on outdoor clay at Roland Garros except from 1963 to 1967 where it was held at Stade Pierre de Coubertin on indoor wood. In History of the Pro Tennis Wars, by Ray Bowers (, a Web site where Bowers gives a very detailed account of the first twenty years of the professional tennis tours, from a modest beginning in 1926 with Suzanne Lenglen and Vincent Richards as the main attractions, on through 1945, there is no mention of a French Pro tournament in 1933. The only professional competition played that year at Roland Garros was a USA-France meeting, September 22-24, in the Davis Cup format won by the USA 4-1 where Cochet overcame Bruce Barnes, Tilden defeated Plaa and Cochet, Barnes beat Plaa, and Americans then closed out the doubles. Many sources probably wrongly considered the Tilden-Cochet match as a final of a supposed French Pro.

In 1953, from Saturday November 21 to Sunday November 22, a 4-man (Sedgman winner, Gonzales runner-up, Segura 3rd and Budge 4th) professional tournament was held in Paris on indoor red cement at the Palais des Sports but there is no mention anywhere that this tournament was a French Pro : in particular in the January 1954 edition of Tennis de France, the french magazine, run by Philippe Chatrier (future president of the ILTF) who made the report of this tournament by interviewing Frank Sedgman, winner of the tournament. Joe McCauley included this tournament in his list of French Pro tournaments but he precised in his book "History of Professional Tennis" : "May not have been considered at the time as an official French Pro". In January 1950 in the same site Pancho Segura defeated Jack Kramer.

Year Winner Runner-up
1930 Karel Koželuh Albert Burke
1931 Martin Plaa Robert Ramillon
1932 Robert Ramillon Martin Plaa
not held
1934 Bill Tilden Martin Plaa
1935 Ellsworth Vines Hans Nusslein
1936 Henri Cochet Robert Ramillon
1937 Hans Nusslein Henri Cochet
1938 Hans Nusslein Bill Tilden
1939 Don Budge Ellsworth Vines
not held
1956 Tony Trabert Pancho Gonzales
not held
1958 Ken Rosewall Lew Hoad
1959 Tony Trabert Frank Sedgman
1960 Ken Rosewall Lew Hoad
1961 Ken Rosewall Pancho Gonzales
1962 Ken Rosewall Andres Gimeno
1963 Ken Rosewall Rod Laver
1964 Ken Rosewall Rod Laver
1965 Ken Rosewall Rod Laver
1966 Ken Rosewall Rod Laver
1967 Rod Laver Andres Gimeno
1968 Rod Laver John Newcombe

Nevertheless before 1930 some tournaments were sometimes labelled "Professional Championships of France" : the Bristol Cup (held from 1920 to 1932), the most important pro tournament in the world in the 1920s, was sometimes referred as the French Pro as well as the World Pro tournament held at Deauville in 1925 . Therefore two different tournaments were both considered as French Pro Championships in 1925 (World Pro at Deauville and Bristol Cup at Cannes) and from 1930 to 1932 (Roland Garros and Bristol Cup at Beaulieu).

Date Event and City Winner Runner-up
1920 Bristol Cup, Cannes Romeo Acquarone
1921, December Bristol Cup, Cannes John C.S. Rendall
1922, December 19-23 Bristol Cup, Menton John C.S. Rendall J. Negro
1923, December ?-20 Bristol Cup, Menton John C.S. Rendall J. Negro
1924, December Bristol Cup, Cannes (Court Métropole) Albert Burke Roman Najuch
1925, August World Pro Chps, Deauville Karel Koželuh Albert Burke
1925, December ?-26 Bristol Cup, Cannes Albert Burke Roman Najuch
1926, December 13-16 Bristol Cup, Cannes (Carlton Tennis Club) Karel Koželuh Albert Burke
No Bristol Cup in December 1927 : delayed to January 1928 ... ... ... ... ...
1928, January 9-12 Bristol Cup, Beaulieu Karel Koželuh Roman Najuch previously a Pole
1929, January Bristol Cup, Beaulieu Karel Koželuh Albert Burke
1930, January Bristol Cup, Beaulieu Karel Koželuh Roman Najuch
1931, January 10-17 Bristol Cup, Beaulieu Karel Koželuh Albert Burke
1932, January 5-10 last edition of the Bristol Cup, Beaulieu Karel Koželuh Martin Plaa

See List of French Men's Singles champions and finalists


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