1965: The TENNIS Era Begins

by: Steve Tignor | January 08, 2015

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of TENNIS Magazine's founding in 1965. To commemorate the occasion, we'll look back each Thursday at one of the 50 moments that have defined the last half-century in our sport.

“Tennis remains a step-child of the sports pages: doomed to occasional agate-type recording of tournament scores.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s a lament that could have been written this week, but it comes from 50 years ago, when a new magazine called TENNIS chose to open its inaugural issue with those words. The idea in 1965, as it is in 2015, was to take the sport out of the fine print and give it the front-and-center coverage that its popularity merited. The editors at the time said that they could feel the early tremors of a “tennis boom” in the United States, and they were right: The Open era, an impossible dream for nearly a century, was right around the corner.

Of course, much is different about TENNIS then and TENNIS today. The front cover of the first issue was a grainy, black-and-white photo of two American amateurs, Marty Riessen and Clark Graebner, on an unidentified indoor court. The back cover was an ad for something called the Cragin-Simplex Professional Racquet. Inside, the (few) advertisements were for wood frames made by blast-from-the-past brands like Spalding and Bancroft.

It was the “Magazine of the Racquet Sports,” in those days, and tennis shared space with articles about badminton, squash, and ping-pong. Published in Chicago, it also had a distinctly local flavor. The first issue included a piece on the junior scene in Milwaukee, a schedule of upcoming events in Central Indiana, a report from the new tennis hotbed of Salisbury, Maryland, and a headline informing us that the “Chicago district aims for excellence.”

Strangely, the magazine’s lead column came from South African player Abe Segal. The famous funny man described one of his matches this way: “I missed two volleys that my 5-year-old daughter could have knocked off.”

TENNIS, obviously, was still finding its editorial feet. It may have started with a local focus because another magazine, World Tennis, which had been around since 1953, was already well-known for its coverage of the global game. The editor of World Tennis, Gladys Heldman, was a chain-smoking rabble-rouser from New York who used its pages to (successfully) call for an Open game where amateurs and professionals could finally face each other across a net. In 1970, Heldman would helped found the WTA Tour with Billie Jean King.

Nothing so groundbreaking would come from the pages of TENNIS. But by the 70s, with a groovy, curvy, iconic new logo and an audience in the hundreds of thousands, the magazine had become the voice of the sport’s U.S. recreational boom. Snoopy and Johnny Carson appeared on the cover; young writers such as Pete Bodo, Mike Lupica, and Barry Lorge made their names in its pages; Arthur Ashe and Pete Sampras hung around the office, penning their instructional columns; and, in a new century, one of the magazine’s earliest subjects of interest, Chris Evert, became the publisher.

Badminton and ping-pong have fallen by the wayside since that first issue in 1965, but TENNIS, like tennis, has thrived and survived for half a century.

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