Tennis is one of the biggest sports in the world, and the four Grand Slam tournaments attract huge interest globally. The rules and regulations have altered throughout the years, with the Open Era officially starting in 1968.
Tennis changed after that, as professional and amateur players were allowed to compete side by side for prize money in the biggest events the sport had to offer. In this overview, we look at the transition into the Open Era and check out the four Grand Slam tournaments.
What is the Open Era?
Tennis was revolutionised in the late 1960s with the start of the Open Era.
Before that, only amateur players were allowed to compete in the big tournaments, including the four majors.
This was before the days of professional players being allowed to compete for prize money.
Prior to the Open Era, participating players competed just for the fun, honour and prestige of it, hard though that might be to believe.
No prize money was on offer, and players were only paid for travel expenses.
Just before the Open Era, many players turned professional so they could play for money.
Pre-Open Era Tournaments
Some of the top tournaments before the Open Era were the US Pro Tennis Championships, Wembley Championship, and the French Pro Championship.
Alongside those competitions, players would also compete at The Championships at Wimbledon, US Championships, the French Championships, and the Australian Championships.
Nowadays, these are known as the four Grand Slam tournaments with their names slightly altered, although they are separate tournaments.
Players would go head-to-head for the titles, but there was no prize money to win.
However, in 1967, Wimbledon allowed a total of $35,000 in prize money for the singles competition, while $10,000 was made available for the doubles.
Wimbledon 1967 (also known as Wimbledon Pro) also marked the first time that professionals played on Centre Court.
Australia’s Dominance in the 1960s
Just before the Open Era began, Australian players were starting to dominate the sport.
The Aussies won the Kramer Cup in 1961, 1962 & 1963, while four of the five Madison Square Garden Pro events were won by players from Australia.
Aussie icons Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall were right at the top of their game in the 1960s, the men from down under dominating the sport.
The pair were huge rivals in the three major tournaments.
Rosewall won seven French Pro titles in a row, while Laver won four successive Wembley Pro tournaments.
Rosewall and Laver also shared the last five US Pro titles, with Laver edging it three to two.
First Open Era Tournament
The Open Era officially began in 1968, and the first-ever Open Era tournament was the 1968 British Hard Court Championship.
It was an historic event in Bournemouth, England, with men’s winner Rosewall picking up $2,400 in prize money.
Runner-up Laver was awarded $1,200. Virginia Wade won the women’s event.
The British Hard Court Championship was quickly followed by the first open Grand Slam tournament, which was the 1968 French Open, as the tournament was now known.
Rosewall prevailed again, defeating rival Laver in four sets.
Texas-born Nancy Richey beat Brit Ann Haydon-Jones in the women’s final.
Four Grand Slams
The first major event in tennis was Wimbledon, in the amateur era, from 1877.
The US Open followed in 1881, though was known as the United States National Championships with the French Open kicking off in 1891, though it was known as the French Championships at that time.
The Australian Open (Australian Championships until 1968) was then founded in 1905.
However, it was not until 1925 that all four tournaments became officially sanctioned majors.
These days, Wimbledon, the US Open, French Open, and Australian Open are the four Grand Slam tournaments of the tennis season.
Prize money has grown enormously over the years, with a record £32,154,000 up for grabs at the 2023 Wimbledon Championships.
Open Era Summary
- 1968 marks start of Open Era
- Prior to that is the Amateur Era
- Prior to 1968 pro players could not enter the Grand Slams
- Before the Open Era pros were contracted to tours, pro tours beginning in the 1920s
- Separate tournaments for pros during the 1960s diluted the strength of the Grand Slams
- Winning in the Open Era is considered far harder as all of the best players in the word entered the same events and increasing prize money attracted more players
Wimbledon is the oldest and most popular tournament in the world of tennis. The championships take place annually at the famous All England Club in London, England. The tournament is the only major to be played on grass. The 2023 version was the 136th edition of this old competition.
Roger Federer holds the record for most singles titles, picking up eight championships, though Novak Djokovic may level, or even overtake him. Federer’s last win came in 2017, and the Swiss legend officially retired from the sport in 2022. In the Amateur Era, British star William Renshaw won seven titles, including six in a row between 1881 and 1886.
The US Open is one of the biggest sporting events on the annual calendar in the United States. Traditionally, this is the last of the four Grand Slam tournaments to be played each season. The first US Open took place in 1881.
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City has been the home of the American Grand Slam tournament since 1978. Richard Sears, William Larned, and Bill Tilden share the record for most wins with seven each. In the Open Era, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, and Federer are tied with five wins apiece.
The French Open is played on the clay courts of Roland Garros in Paris, France every year. It is the second Grand Slam of the season after the Australian Open. The Parisian event is renowned for being the most physically demanding major for the players and has been played on red clay since 1908 (it began on grass).
Spanish ace Rafael Nadal has dominated this tournament over the years, winning the French Open a staggering 14 times. Max Decugis won the French Championships eight times, a record.
The Australian Open traditionally kicks off the Grand Slam season in the tennis world. The superb Melbourne Park has hosted the event since 1988, and the first Australian Open took place in 1905. The Aussie tournament is the youngest of the four Slams.
Novak Djokovic, who recently became the greatest Grand Slam winner, holds the record for most wins in Australia. The sensational Serb has won 10 Australian Opens and counting. In the Amateur Era, California-born Roy Emerson, who represented Australia, picked up six Australian Open titles, including five on the trot just before the Open Era began.
Other Big Tennis Tournaments
The four Grand Slams may dominate the tennis season, but there are several non-majors that are prestigious events. Tournaments take place all over the world, attracting huge crowds and big television figures.
In terms of international team tournaments, the Davis Cup is the premier event in tennis, with the first edition being held way back in 1900 as a challenge between Great Britain and USA. The International Tennis Federation competition is contested annually by over 150 nations. United States are the most successful country, winning 32 Davis Cups and finishing runners-up on 29 occasions.
Tennis is also part of the Olympics. In the Amateur Era, Great Britain were the most successful nation, winning 15 golds and 39 medals in total with US next on seven and 15 respectively. However, in the Open Era, USA have been the dominant force, with 14 golds, compared to Germany, Russia and Switzerland who all have three.
However, Andy Murray remains the only player to have won more than one gold medal in the singles in the Open Era. He is also the only player to have successfully retained the title at the Olympic Games, winning gold in London in 2012 and in Brazil in 2016.