Vying for the Prize
Tennis competitions quickly attracted more and more participants and spectators. By the early 1900s, the game had become truly international and the best players were traveling to tournaments in other countries. The International Lawn Tennis Federation (now the ITF after the word lawn was dropped) was formed in 1912 with 13 member countries.
The first Davis Cup competition between a team of Americans and a Team of British tennis stars was played in 1900. The team competition was the brainchild of a young American player, Dwight Davis. The Americans won the first two Davis Cups. (The second competition was not played until 1902). Britain won the next four. Today, more than 100 countries vie for the Davis Cup. In 1923, Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman began a similar competition for women awarding the (can you guess?) Wightman Cup to the champions.
In addition to the team competition, tennis has four major tournaments each year, called Grand Slam events. These tournaments are Wimbledon, the Australian Open, The French Open and the U.S. Open. On rare occasions, a player will win all four Grand Slam events in a single year. Only five people have achieved this spectacular feat. One of them, Rod Laver of Australia, did it twice.
Men’s Grand Slam Winners
1938 – Don Budge, United States
1962 – Rod Laver, Australia
1969 – Rod Laver, Australia
Women’s Grand Slam Winners
1953 – Maureen Connolly, United States
1970 – Margaret Smith Court, Australia
1988 – Steffi Graf, West Germany
Graf’s Grand Slam is known as a “Golden Slam” because she also won the Olympic gold in the same year.
Tennis and Olympics: An On-Again, Off-Again Relationship
When the first modern Olympic games were held in Athens, Greece in 1896, Tennis was part of the athletic festival. John Boland of Ireland won the first gold medal awarded in Olympic tennis. He won a second gold that same year for doubles. Women first played Olympic tennis in 1900. “Chattie” Cooper of Britain won the gold.
Top tennis players couldn’t always make it to those early Olympic games because of their tournament schedule. In 1912, the Olympics and Wimbledon were at the same time and all of the best players chose to compete at Wimbledon.
Tennis and the Olympics had a messy break up after the 1924 games. The Olympic Committee and various tennis federations could not agree on how to settle the question of whether professional players would be allowed to compete. Tennis and the Olympics tried to reconcile in 1968 when tennis was a demonstration sport in Mexico City, but the crowds were small and the enthusiasm lacking. In 1984, they agreed to try it again. When tennis was played at the Los Angeles Olympics, again as a demonstration sport, it was the first time professional athletes were officially allowed to compete in any Olympic sport. Fans bought out every seat at the tennis venue. In 1988, the reconciliation was complete and tennis was once again an Olympic medal sport. Graf of Germany and Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia won the gold medals in singles competition.