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The vote that took place on this day in 1967 unified two forces that usually stood in opposition: tradition and rebellion.

What in tennis was more traditional than Wimbledon? Held since 1877, the sport’s oldest and most significant tournament personified tennis’ upstanding values. If ever you wanted to make the case for tennis as the sport of kings and witness all the political and cultural hierarchy that implied, look no further than Wimbledon’s home, the venerable All England Club.

Since 1959, the All England Club’s chairman had been Herman David, a man who on the surface personified all that Wimbledon stood for. As a youth, David studied at Oxford. Soon after, in the ‘30s, David had played Davis Cup for Great Britain, competing on a team alongside the great Fred Perry. During World War II, he served in the Royal Air Force. David was also chairman of the Diamond Development Company, an expert on industrial diamonds. As Bud Collins wrote in his book, The History of Tennis, “Exposing fakes was second nature to him.”

And in tennis, David knew that the big fake was the game’s very structure. Pros earned money but were banned from prestigious events such as Wimbledon—one of dozens of tournaments which adhered to the amateur credo that precluded overt financial compensation. While pros competed as barnstormers in arenas all over the world, amateurs were rewarded under-the-table with various forms of so-called “expense” money that left them at the mercy of national associations and capricious promoters.

Rod Laver's decision to turn pro after 1962 precluded him from playing Wimbledon, then an amateur event, for five years.

Rod Laver's decision to turn pro after 1962 precluded him from playing Wimbledon, then an amateur event, for five years.

It was never certain if leaders such as Herman David necessarily cared about the economic fortunes of tennis players. But what was crystal-clear was that David and his colleagues deeply cherished Wimbledon’s status as the sport’s premier tournament—the showcase for the game’s very best tennis. And whenever they saw the pros in action, David and his colleagues recognized that the quality of play shown by such professionals as Pancho Gonzales, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad and Rod Laver was markedly better than the amateur game.

As far back as 1959, David led the charge to make Wimbledon an “Open” tournament—one where pros and amateurs could compete alongside one another. But the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), Britain’s governing body for the sport, was unwilling to let this happen, lest it risk suspension from the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF). Another effort failed in 1964.

But in June 1967, the All England Club announced that come August, it would host the “Wimbledon World Lawn Professional Tennis Professional Championships,” a three-day, eight-man pro event that would air on the BBC. “Around the world ILTF jaws dropped,” wrote John Barrett in his history of Wimbledon. “This was, in effect, a declaration of war against the Establishment.”

The tournament proved a spectacular success, highlighted by capacity crowds and many compelling matches, including a dramatic Hoad-Gonzales three-setter and a fitting final between the two best players in the world, Laver and Rosewall.

In the wake of such a grand triumph, David declared that in 1968, Wimbledon would be open to all. An LTA vote to ratify this decision was held on October 5. Shortly after, Carl Aavold, president of the British Lawn Tennis Association, told the New York Times, “We have hopes of not going it alone, but we have had no assurances from anyone. It is a grave and serious step that could have serious consequences.”

By March 1968, the ILTF voted to approve Open tennis. In many cases, major change comes from the periphery, the dispossessed, the outsiders. But in this case, the rebellion had been launched from the citadel of tradition.