By Chris Elsberry
NEW HAVEN – After being the CEO for the Women’s Tennis Association for four years and watching the sport grow by leaps and bounds into a world-wide phenomenon, Anne Worcester decided it was time for a change. She said goodbye to the WTA and its 60-plus tournaments and decided to work for just one, the Pilot Pen International.
Why? Because of Mike Davies.
Over the course of his 50-plus years in tennis, both amateur and professional, Davies has been widely recognized as one of the game’s greatest innovators. Blue courts? That was Davies’ idea. Yellow tennis balls? That too was Davies. Thirty second intervals between points and 90 seconds between changeovers. Again, Davies.
The tiebreaker? Davies’ idea.
But it’s not just those additions that have made him a renowned figure in the sport. He was the executive director for World Championship Tennis, a forerunner of the ATP – Association of Tennis Professionals – and was one of the first people to push tennis for television. He sold marketing rights and promoted the sport, taking it around the world.
And for all those things, Davies will be part of the 2012 class that will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. on July 14.
Davies was the Hall’s first formal announcement at a press conference Thursday morning. The other five entrants will be announced at various times over the next month. Finalists include, Jennifer Capriati, Yevgeny Kalelnikov, Gustavo Kuerten, Randy Snow, Thelma Coyne Long, Manuel Orantes, Nick Bollettieri and Eiichi Kawatei.
“There’s no one more deserving than Mike Davies to join the Hall of Fame,” said Mark Stenning, CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, who joined Davies at a morning press conference.
Davies, 76, is the tournament president and CEO for the New Haven Open at Yale, formerly the Pilot Pen International, and has been working that event since 1997.
“There is no higher award than the Hall of Fame. I’m very thrilled,” said Davies. “This is a great achievement in my life. I thank the Hall of Fame for doing such a great job in keeping the sport alive and keeping the history of it alive.”
It was 1998 when Worcester, said goodbye to the glitz and glamour of the WTA and became the tournament director of the Pilot Pen.
“When I did that, there were a lot of raised eyebrows but I did it because I had two young children, plus I wanted to work with Mike,” Worcester said. “Think about it, all the things we take for granted in the game today, he was the one that basically created them.”
It was 1968 when Davies took control of the newly-created World Championship Tennis and took tennis to the masses. The WTC played tournaments all over the world, with such names as Rod Laver, Tony Roche, Ken Rosewall and Butch Buchholz (the New Haven Open at Yale’s tournament chairman). He also worked as the executive director for the ATP, the ITF – International Tennis Federation and has been credited with revitalizing the Davis Cup.
Davies was Britain’s No. 1 ranked player in 1957, 1959 and 1960. He reached the Wimbledon men’s doubles final in 1960 – the last time a British male has reached the finals in either singles or doubles – and afterwards, decided to turn professional. Because of that, he was banned from playing in any of the Grand Slam events. At the time, international tennis was still strictly amateur and his pro status made him ineligible.
“We were banned from the Grand Slams and the Davis Cup,” Davies said. “I was banned for eight years.”
In the meantime, eight other tennis players – Buchholz, Nikola Pilic, Dennis Ralston, Pierre Barthes, Cliff Drysdale, Roger Taylor, Tony Roche and John Newcombe – nicknamed the “Handsome Eight” signed with Lamar Hunt (who later signed Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall) and created the WCT.
“We did a lot of one-night stands,” Davies said. “We played in small towns all over the world.”
But after just a couple of months, the WCT had lost close to $20,000 and Buchholz called Davies and asked if he could help the struggling group. “For the good of the game,” Davies remembers Buchholz saying.
So Davies met with Hunt, got the WCT on track and the rest is history.
“When I look back, it’s incredible,” he said. “We changed the face of tennis.”
Mike Davies inducted into International Tennis Hall of Fame
By Chris Elsberry