Modern Times: How Tennis Turned Professional

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Modern Times: How Tennis Turned Professional
Edward Becker
Longwood University

In 1884, Maud Watson, a demure nineteen-year-old vicar’s daughter, won the the inaugural Wimbledon Ladies Singles Championship. Strictly amateur, she received a silver cup and the congratulations of the twelve other competitors and a handful of spectators. On court she wore a long wide dress with an hour-glass waist and bustle. In 1985, Martina Navratilova, a twenty-eight-year old self-proclaimed bi-sexual millionairess, triumphed in the one hundred and first Ladies Singles Championship. Thoroughly professional, she celebrated her victory from a draw of 128 by waving aloft a silver salver for the television cameras and the capacity crowd of 16,000. She stowed away a cheque for £117,000. Her clothing a footwear were predominantly white but clearly recognisable were a batch of manufacturer’s logos and remunerative advertising labels (Jeffreys, 2009, p.2238). Kate Brasher highlights the stark differences between two competing ideologies that have shaped tennis today: amateurism and professionalism. While today nearly all sports are designated as professional, many of them, including tennis, began as amateur pursuits which, as is clearly obvious, had polar values to today’s professionals. The second half of the twentieth century saw dramatic shift in sports ideology, culminating in the development of professionalism in sports. Prior to this shift, the amateur notion that sport should be devoid of financial appeal reigned supreme (Jeffreys, 2009). Kevin Jeffreys (2009) viewed amateurism was viewed as “a marriage of honour and competition, of an upper class ideal of chivalry and a new middle-class belief in the moral value of strenuous effort”(p. 2238), which helped to shape the cultural identity of the upper middle class. It was only after the Second World War that professionalism superseded amateurism values and became the guiding principle for competitive sport and that continues to shape modern sports today (Jeffreys, 2009). However the “triumph of professionalism was a protracted process that occurred at varying rates in different sports from the 1960s to the 1990s” (Jeffreys, 2009, p. 2238). Tennis experienced a long struggle between the conservative amateurs and modern professionals up to 1968, when the ‘open’ era began. The purpose of this paper will be to follow the tense and changing relationship between amateurism and professionalism from the late Victorian period to the arrival of the open era. After examining the hegemonic amateurism prior to the First World War; focus will then turn to the ‘sham-amateurism’ prominent between the wars; finally the post-World War II period will analyze the continuing struggle between the contrasting paradigms and the eventual shift in the balance of power that concluded with the arrival of the open era. Hegemonic Amateurism of the Late-Victorian Period

Modern tennis can trace its roots to upper-middle class English society of the pre-1914-Victorian era as a leisure pursuit. It was a socially exclusive event, as highlighted by the spiritual home of the sport, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), which was “renowned for its small and socially exclusive membership” (Jeffreys, 2009, p. 2240). Another defining characteristic of the sport was its deep-rooted attachment to the amateur ethos of fair play and sportsmanship. Amateurs were gentlemen of the middle and upper classes who played sports in the name of ‘fair play’. According to Kevin Jeffreys (2009), “fair play meant not only respecting the written rules of the game, but abiding by what was generally understood to be the spirit of the game” (p. 2240). During this time, dissent towards officials was unacceptable, and polite calls of ‘jolly good shot old chap’ between the players were commonplace (Jeffreys, 2009). As the popularity of tennis grew and spread across the globe, countries established governing bodies to administer the sport. These...
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