Stories of the Open Era: Introducing our year-long tennis celebration

by: | January 08, 2018

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Each week, we'll remember one of our sport's memorable moments from the last half-century. (AP)

Nineteen-sixty-eight was a year of revolution, when cities from Tokyo to Chicago to Paris to Prague were convulsed with protest. Things got so wild that even the staid old sport of tennis joined the fun in the sleepy seaside resort town of Bournemouth, England. That’s where, at 1:43 p.m. on April 22, in front of 100 hardy fans and a shivering dog, a 22-year-old from Scotland named John Clifton squinted up through the mist and hit the first serve of tennis’ Open era.

As revolts go, this may sound a little mild. But that week at Bournemouth, tennis channeled the anarchic spirit of the 1960s. It was a decade when traditional divisions were erased and age-old hierarchies came crashing down. Black and white in the American south; men and women in workplaces and on college campuses; fine art and commercial art; jazz and rock: What had seemed like essential distinctions as the decade started had begun to dissolve by its end. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage; in ’69, female students were admitted to Yale and Princeton. In Bournemouth that spring, tennis added its own once-unthinkable commingling to the ’60s cocktail party: The end of the distinction between amateur and professional.

In the 50 years that followed tennis' big bang in Bournemouth, we've witnessed the sport's most memorable moments, impactful players and iconic matches. Throughout this golden anniversary year, we'll relive some of the most significant stories from the past half-century in a multi-platform series, Stories of the Open Era. Each Thursday, we'll share one of those stories, and examine how it continues to leave an unmistakable mark on the game today.


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