Major professional tennis tournaments before the Open Era

Before the advent of the Open era of tennis competitions in April 1968, only amateurs were allowed to compete in established tournaments, including the four Majors. There was no prize money and players were compensated for travel expenses only. However many top tennis players turned professional to play legally for prize money in the years before the open era. They played in separate professional events, mostly on tours involving head-to-head competition, but also in professional tournaments as the biggest events on the pro tour.[1] Professional tournaments, in particular the professional Majors, usually only had a men's draw.

Professional MajorsEdit

In addition to the head-to-head tours, there were the annual professional tournaments called Championship tournaments, where the world's top professional male players played. These tournaments held with a certain tradition and longevity. According to Ellsworth Vines, "the Wembley tournament in London..., the U.S. professional championship, and to some extent the tournament in Paris were the major professional tournaments prior to 1968."[2]

The oldest of these three Professional Majors [3], or "Pro Slams",[4][5] was the U.S. Pro Tennis Championships, played at a variety of different venues and on a variety of different surfaces, between 1927 and 1999. The most prestigious of the three was generally the Wembley Championship. Played between 1934 and 1990, at the Wembley Arena in England, it was unofficially usually considered the world's championship until 1967. The third professional major was the French Pro Championship, played between 1934 and 1968, on the clay-courts of Roland Garros, apart from 1963–1967, when it was played on the indoor wood courts of Stade Coubertin.

Jack Kramer designated the four major professional tournaments for the 1958/1959 seasons as follows; Forest Hills, Kooyong, L.A. Masters, Sydney.[6]

U.S. Pro Tennis ChampionshipsEdit

The U.S. Pro Tennis Championship, also known as the US Pro, was an annual tournament, later known as MFS Pro Championships. It was first organized by player Vinnie Richards when promoter C. C. Pyle withdrew interest in the project. It was first played on the Notlek courts located at 119th Street and Riverside Drive, Manhattan. The tournament was held at various locations in several states until 1964, when it moved to the Longwood Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.[1]

French Pro ChampionshipEdit

The French Pro Championship was first held in 1930, held by the "Association Française des Professeurs de Tennis (AFPT)", entitled "Championnat International de France Professionnel" (French Pro Championships) in June, 18-22, 1930.[7] From 1930 the French Pro Championship was 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.

Wembley ChampionshipEdit

The Wembley Championship, also known as the Wembley Pro, was held at the Wembley Arena, in London. This professional event ran from 1934–1967 and was originally played on a wood surface placed over the top of a drained pool. It was officially known as the "London Indoor Professional Championships" from 1951 through 1967.[8]

List of Professional Majors championsEdit

Year US Pro Wembley Pro French Pro
1927   Vinnie Richards no competition no competition
1928   Vinnie Richards no competition no competition
1929   Karel Koželuh no competition no competition
1930   Vinnie Richards no competition   Karel Koželuh
1931   Bill Tilden no competition   Martin Plaa
1932   Karel Koželuh no competition   Robert Ramillon
1933   Vinnie Richards no competition   Bill Tilden*
1934   Hans Nüsslein   Ellsworth Vines   Bill Tilden
1935   Bill Tilden   Ellsworth Vines   Ellsworth Vines
1936   Joe Whalen no competition   Henri Cochet
1937   Karel Koželuh   Hans Nüsslein   Hans Nüsslein
1938   Fred Perry no competition   Hans Nüsslein
1939   Ellsworth Vines   Don Budge   Don Budge
1940   Don Budge no competition no competition
1941   Fred Perry no competition no competition
1942   Don Budge no competition no competition
1943   Bruce Barnes no competition no competition
1944 no competition no competition no competition
1945   Welby Van Horn no competition no competition
1946   Bobby Riggs no competition no competition
1947   Bobby Riggs no competition no competition
1948   Jack Kramer no competition no competition
1949   Bobby Riggs   Jack Kramer no competition
1950   Pancho Segura   Pancho Gonzales   Pancho Segura*
1951   Pancho Segura   Pancho Gonzales no competition
1952   Pancho Segura   Pancho Gonzales no competition
1953   Pancho Gonzales   Frank Sedgman   Frank Sedgman*
1954   Pancho Gonzales no competition no competition
1955   Pancho Gonzales no competition no competition
1956   Pancho Gonzales   Pancho Gonzales   Tony Trabert
1957   Pancho Gonzales   Ken Rosewall no competition
1958   Pancho Gonzales   Frank Sedgman   Ken Rosewall
1959   Pancho Gonzales   Mal Anderson   Tony Trabert
1960   Alex Olmedo   Ken Rosewall   Ken Rosewall
1961   Pancho Gonzales   Ken Rosewall   Ken Rosewall
1962   Butch Buchholz   Ken Rosewall   Ken Rosewall
1963   Ken Rosewall   Ken Rosewall   Ken Rosewall
1964   Rod Laver   Rod Laver   Ken Rosewall
1965   Ken Rosewall   Rod Laver   Ken Rosewall
1966   Rod Laver   Rod Laver   Ken Rosewall
1967   Rod Laver   Rod Laver   Rod Laver


  1. The status of the 1933 French Pro is unclear. In History of the Pro Tennis Wars, by Ray Bowers, 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. Many sources probably wrongly considered the Tilden-Cochet match as a final of a supposed French Pro.
  2. The Wembley Championships of 1936 and 1938 did not take place. The London Daily Mail of August 24th 1936 contained an article stating that the 1936 Wembley event would not take place due to Tilden and Vines being unavailable. Ray Bowers, in his History of professional tennis, says that 1936 and 1938 Wembley tournaments never occurred and offers substantiating evidence for his assertion. [9][10]
  3. The 1937 US Pro was the first pro event open to amateur players and is considered as both the U.S. Pro Tennis Championship and first "true" U.S. Open event.
  4. The championship events from 1951–1962, were billed as the International Pro or World Pro Championship. In 1951, a U.S. Pro was held at Forest Hills authorized by the USPLTA, and an International Pro was held at Cleveland. There was no USPLTA U. S. Pro event held in 1952 or 1953, but the International Pro was held at Cleveland in those years and was regarded as the U. S. Pro.[11][12][13][14][15] In 1954, the USPLTA authorized Kramer to hold the U.S. Pro at L.A. Tennis Club in Los Angeles (this was the successor tournament to the 1951 U.S. Pro at Forest Hills and Segura was the defending champion).[16] The International Pro and World Pro events at Cleveland from 1951-62 were not authorized by the USPLTA to be the U.S. Pro, and were not billed as such.[17] The USPLTA were an organisation of teaching professionals and the touring professionals did enter U. S. Pro events in this period.[18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25] In some interviews in the 1950s, Gonzales and Segura referred to the Cleveland World Pro as "the National" or the "U. S. National Professional Championships"[26]. There were many newspaper and magazine articles in the 1950s that also referred to Cleveland events as U. S. Pro.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34]
  5. The status of 1953 "French Pro" is unclear. Joe McCauley included this tournament in his list of French Pro tournaments but he prefaced in his book "History of Professional Tennis" that it may not have been considered at the time as an official French Pro. Same for the 1950 "French Pro" that was held in the same location as the 1953 tournament listed, different from the regular location at the Roland Garros.[35]

Other important tournamentsEdit

The Championships at Wimbledon, the US Championships, the French Championships, and the Australian Championships were typically the top events, where amateur players could compete for the title, albeit without prize money. Since the professional circuit was less organized and somewhat less popular than the amateur circuit, the professional events hierarchy changed each year. In 1934 the US Pro was a high-class tournament with all top ranked pro players whereas in 1936 it was a meeting between pro teachers without any leading pro players. A tournament could even be canceled at any time due to poor attendance.

Consequently, for a given year a pro tournament was important 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 while others temporarily rose to the highest levels of competition when other tournaments weren't held. These include:

Bristol Cup: 1920–1932Edit

Sometimes labelled "Professional Championships of France" this tournament was held on the French Riviera at Menton, at Cannes.

List of Bristol Cup winners:

Professional Championship of the World: 1927–1928Edit

This event was held in October on Clay courts, at the Queen's Club in London. In 1928 Myers of the Daily Telegraph wrote that "this was the best pro tournament ever held in England."

List of Queen's Club Pro winners:

World Pro Championship: 1932–1933Edit

The World Pro Championship were held in 1932 and 1933 in Berlin at the Rot-Weiss club, on clay. It had a very large participation (over 80 players). According to Ray Bowers in the History of the Pro Tennis Wars Chapter IV (cited lower down), this tournament at the time was regarded as the most prestigious professional tournament in the world.

List of World Pro winners:

Bonnardel Cup: 1935–1937Edit

This was a team tournament created by Bill Tilden and modeled on the Davis Cup format. In 1935, early rounds in France were hoped to be played at Roland Garros, but the French Tennis Association would not allow the event to be played at the stadium.[36]

  • 1935:   France
  • 1936:   United States
  • 1937:   France

International Pro Championship of Britain: 1935–1939Edit

The International Pro Championship of Britain (also known as the Southport Pro, as well as the Southport Dunlop Cup for sponsorship purposes) was a professional tennis tournament held at Victoria Park in Southport between 1935 and 1939. It was open to professional players only, amateurs were not allowed to compete. The tournament was held on outdoor En-tout-cas, "all-weather" artificial clay.

List of International Pro Championship of Britain winners:

U.S Pro Hard Courts: 1945–1946Edit

In LA; the only significant pro tournament of the last year of World War II.

Philadelphia Indoor Pro: 1950–1952Edit

Australian Pro: 1954–1966Edit

This had multiple venues from the east and west coasts of Australia and was not played in 1955, 1956, 1961 and 1963.

List of Australian Pro winners:

Tournament of Champions: 1957–1959Edit

The Tournament of Champions was a professional tennis tournament between 1957 and 1959. The tournament was held on the grass-courts of Forest Hills, New York, between 1957 and 1959, and an Australian version of the Tournament of Champions was held on grass at White City, Sydney in 1957 and 1959, and at Kooyong stadium in Melbourne in 1958. The 1957 and 1958 Forest Hills tournaments had a round robin format, while the 1959 Forest Hills was an elimination tournament with 10 players. The Sydney version was an elimination event, while the 1958 Kooyong event was a round robin format.

The Forest Hills Tournament of Champions was broadcast nationally in the U.S.A. on the CBS television network, the only professional tennis tournament in the U.S.A. to achieve this status.

The 1958 Kooyong Tournament of Champions was the richest tournament of the era, with a prize money of 10,000 Australian pounds (24,000 USD).

In 1968, the tournament was picked up again for a one off tournament during the open era and called Jack Kramer's Tournament of Champions held at Wembley Arena.

List of Tournament of Champions winners:

Forest Hills Tournament of Champions

Sydney White City (1957, 1959) and Kooyong (1958) Tournament of Champions

Masters Pro: 1956–1967Edit

Round Robin in Los Angeles, held from 1956 to 1960, and again in 1964, 1965, and 1967.

Masters Pro winners:

Kramer Cup: 1961–1963Edit

A team format tournament.

  • 1961:   Australia
  • 1962:   Australia
  • 1963:   Australia

Madison Square Garden Pro: 1966–1967Edit

Madison Square Garden Pro winners:

Forest Hills Pro: 1966Edit

The Forest Hills Pro was held in June 1966 on the grass courts of the West Side Tennis Club using the VASSS Scoring System

Forest Hills Pro winner:

Wimbledon Pro: 1967Edit

The Wimbledon World Professional Championship, also known as the Wimbledon Pro, was held in August 1967. The tournament was sponsored and broadcast by the BBC to mark the invention of colour television. It was first time that professional tennis players played at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon Pro winner:


  1. ^ a b Robertson, Max (1974). Encyclopedia of Tennis. pp. 60–71.
  2. ^ Tennis Myth and Method (1978), Ellsworth Vines and Gene Vier (ISBN 9780670696659), page 52
  3. ^ Holder, James (2015). Sport’s Great All-Rounders: A Biographical Dictionary. Bloomington, USA: AuthorHouse. p. 158. ISBN 9781504945691.
  4. ^ Geist, Robert (1999). Ken Rosewall: Der Grosse Meister. Austria. p. 137.
  5. ^ Lee, Raymond (September 2007). "Greatest Player of All Time: A Statistical Analysis". Tennis Week Magazine.
  6. ^ World Tennis, November, 1958
  7. ^ Chevallier, Jean-Pierre (2007). le Tennis en France 1875-1955. Alan Sutton. ISBN 978-2849106266.
  8. ^ "Forgotten Victories". Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  9. ^ "History of the Pro Tennis Wars Chapter VII". Retrieved September 25, 2012.
  10. ^ "History of the Pro Tennis Wars, Chapter IX:". Retrieved September 25, 2012.
  11. ^ "The Philadelphia Inquirer, 20 December 1953".
  12. ^ "Corpus Christi Caller Times, 12 March 1953".
  13. ^ "The Philadelphia Inquirer, 4 April 1953".
  14. ^ "The Tampa Tribune, 11 April 1953".
  15. ^ "The Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 December 1953".
  16. ^ The Los Angeles Times, 11 May 1954
  17. ^ "Renowned players grace USPTA Championships". USPTA. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  18. ^ "The Philadelphia Inquirer, 20 December 1953".
  19. ^ Harold E. Donohue (July 1956). "Pancho Gonzales: Mixed-Up Champion". Pageant. p. 112.
  20. ^ "Corpus Christi Caller Times, 12 March 1953".
  21. ^ "The Philadelphia Inquirer, 4 April 1953".
  22. ^ "The Tampa Tribune, 11 April 1953".
  23. ^ "The Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 December 1953".
  24. ^ "The Times (Shreveport), 16 February 1956".
  25. ^ "Star Press (Muncie), 18 March 1957".
  26. ^ Man with a racket: The autobiography of Pancho Gonzales (1959), p.111
  27. ^ "The Philadelphia Inquirer, 20 December 1953".
  28. ^ Harold E. Donohue (July 1956). "Pancho Gonzales: Mixed-Up Champion". Pageant. p. 112.
  29. ^ "Corpus Christi Caller Times, 12 March 1953".
  30. ^ "The Philadelphia Inquirer, 4 April 1953".
  31. ^ "The Tampa Tribune, 11 April 1953".
  32. ^ "The Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 December 1953".
  33. ^ "The Times (Shreveport), 16 February 1956".
  34. ^ "Star Press (Muncie), 18 March 1957".
  35. ^ McCauley, Joe. History of Professional Tennis.
  36. ^ "Professional Tennis Ban". Barrier Miner. 1935. Retrieved September 26, 2012.

External linksEdit