1968: The Year That Changed Tennis


In an introduction to a new series, Martin Keady, our resident tennis historian, looks back at 1968, the year that tennis finally went “Open”, or fully professional. It was the year that would change tennis forever, and in every sense, from how the game was played (and how the players were paid) to how it was seen around the world.

1968 was a truly historic year, arguably the most important since 1945 and the end of World War Two. Artistically and specifically musically (the greatest art form of the 1960s), it was the year that “pop” changed to “rock”, as everyone from The Beatles to The Velvets followed the trail blazed by Jimi Hendrix the year before and started playing louder, faster and darker. Politically, too, it was a momentous 12 months, as all the optimism of the mid-sixties (which lasted roughly from the first American success of The Beatles to the release of “Sgt. Pepper” in 1967’s Summer of Love) gave way to the acrimony and violence of the “Prague Spring” and the riots at the Democratic Party Conference in Chicago. However, it was in sport and specifically in tennis that some of the most seismic and lasting changes occurred, as 1968 was the year that changed tennis forever.

Throughout 2018, the 50th anniversary of the start of the “Open” era, LastWordOnTennis will be commemorating and celebrating the most important year in tennis history, looking back at all the ways in which it changed tennis irrevocably, including:

THE FIRST OPEN MAJOR – In 1968, the Australian Open took place in December, so the first Open-era Major was the 1968 French Open, in May. Thus, a sporting revolution took place against the backdrop of a genuine political revolution – the fabled Paris ’68 student uprisings – and history was made both on and off court.

THE FIRST OPEN WIMBLEDON – How did Wimbledon, the very embodiment of tennis tradition, cope with the generational change of 1968? At the first Open-era Wimbledon, the fault-lines between the old Amateur game and the new Professional era were fully laid bare.

THE FIRST US OPEN – We will look back at how The US Championships became The US Open, the biggest, brashest and most ‘open’ Open of them all.

THE GENDER REVOLUTION – We will examine how the sporting revolution within the game led to its very own sexual revolution, with a growing demand from female players for gender equality and equal pay, and in the process we will tell the story of how the women’s game found its greatest ever champion (in terms of being a champion for the game itself) in Billie Jean King.

THE TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION – Amid all the other momentous changes of the period, the late 1960s saw the arrival of the first non-wooden rackets, which in time would transform the game completely.

AND FINALLY, THE FANS’ VIEW – At the end of 2018, LastWordOnTennis will invite those tennis fans who saw the remarkable transformations of 1968 at first-hand to record their own unique memories of 1968 and how it changed the game, which would ultimately transform a rather genteel, relatively upper-class entertainment into unarguably the greatest individual sport in the world.

In short, we aim to provide revolutionary (or at least rather remarkable) coverage of the greatest revolution in tennis, and we hope you can join us for the ride.

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