LEANING BACK ON a sofa in his fashionable Oak Lawn townhouse, Owen Williams takes a puff on his familiar Cuban cigar and allows that life does, indeed, seem a little out of control at times. Three months in his new home, and there remains the odd box to be unpacked, the product of having been in the city less than three weeks of that time.
No matter. When life on a wide-body jet seems less than romantic, the executive director of Dallas-based World Championship Tennis (WCT) consoles himself with one very pleasing fact. He is doing what he loves and does best, and long days aside, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“As Gary Player says, the harder you practice, the luckier you get,” the 53-year-old South African says with a smile. And if recent history is any indication, Owen Williams has done his share of practicing-enough, it appears, to have been very lucky indeed.
When Williams, a one-time “tennis bum” and longtime entrepreneur, was recruited by Lamar Hunt to take over the WCT from Mike Davies in September of 1981, he inherited a rudderless organization in a troubled sport. At the start, of course, it had all seemed a wonderful idea when the game had gone “open” to professionals in 1968, ending years of hypocrisy and under-the-table payments to the top “amateur” players. The intervening times, however, had seen too many fingers in the pie, too many tournaments and an ongoing feud between rival promoters who all had attempted to seize upon the game’s growth and profit potential at the same time.
Inevitably, there was too much of what everyone agreed was a good thing, and an unhealthy mix of too few stars and too many tournaments finally erupted into a legal battle between WCT and the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council, the major governing body of tennis in the world. The resulting lawsuit between WCT and the rival Grand Prix tour caused WCT to drop from a high of 22 events in 1982 to only three in 1984. Currently, WCT operates five events.
A one-sided truce? Hardly. The peace carries with it the assurance that there will be no more than one “major league” WCT tourney each week. And as a further and more important concession, the Buick WCT FINALS (April 9-14 at Reunion Arena) is one of only two events in which all the top players signed to play the Grand Prix tour are required to participate. (The other is the Grand Prix Masters in New York.)
For Owen Williams, who was instrumental in bringing about the settlement, the new peace in tennis presents the best of both worlds. Armed with the “Super Bowl” status the agreement gives the Dallas event, he finds himself in charge of what is arguably the fourth most prestigious tournament in the world, surpassed only by Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the French Open. At the same time, it takes WCT out of an era of working with any promoter in any city in a mad rush to fill the calendar with sufficient dates. One new event will be added in 1986, and another in 1987, leaving a total of seven. And that, Williams emphasizes, will be quite enough, thank you.
“We’ll be doing our thing on the tennis courts rather than the law courts,” he says. “WCT is a much healthier animal now than it once was. For a while, we were running 22 tournaments with little or no trained staff and almost no sponsors. But now we’re down to a six-day week rather than seven, and a 10- or 12-hour day instead of 16. This, we can manage. What we had before was simply “impossible.”
What tennis had before, Williams readily admits, was “a zoo.” A tournament a week, or so it seemed to the average fan who could never quite determine which “major event” should be drawing his attention on a given Sunday. It was a situation that lent itself to its share of comic moments, like the time the promoters put down an Astroturf surface on the still-frozen hockey rink in Kansas City (leading to some interesting bounces, not to mention the footwork), or the time Cliff Drysdale brought his packed bags to a hall in Rome, being less than confident of his chances in a first-round match against Mark Cox and wanting to be ready for a quick getaway.
Strange days, indeed. Today, however, the WCT FINALS is a tournament for both the hardcore tennis fan and the casual observer, with a touch of style and class to appeal to all. For the true buff, there is the chance to watch the new wave of players coming into the game, a wave with a decidedly Swedish accent. As of early March, no fewer than five Swedes were in contention for spots in the final 12, led by Mats Wilander (already qualified by virtue of his Australian Open title), and followed by Henrik Sundstrom, Anders Jarryd, Stefan Edberg and Joakim Nystrom. And for both the buff and the more occasional observer, there is the opportunity to enjoy the unmatched skills of defending champion John McEnroe, along with Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Andres Gomez.
With peace, there is stability. And with stability, there is a quality of competition rarely seen.
An enviable situation, to be sure-which is hardly to say that the man in charge is planning to slow down anytime soon. That, it would seem, would be going against the nature of Owen Williams, who has spent nearly four decades pressing against the limits and picking up an education the best way possible- from experience. As a boy growing up in a village of 50 in rural South Africa, he was encouraged by his family to try all kinds of sports. (“My father was crazy about sports.” he says. “I was the most highly trained 12-year-old kid in the entire country.”) The love affair with tennis, however, was forced a bit at first, when Williams was found to be a hemophiliac, thus limiting his participation in contact games.
A natural athlete, he took almost immediately to the style and rhythms of the more refined sport. By his early teens, he had a strong regional reputation, and in 1951. he was ready to try a go at Wimbledon, working his way to England by peeling potatoes on an ocean liner. That story, in fact, was picked up by a South African sportswriter and forwarded to the Fleet Street tabloids, making Williams a celebrity of sorts in England “before I’d so much as hit a ball.”
“I was never really a very good tennis player,” he says now, despite having made the Wimbledon doubles quarterfinals in 1954 and was the No. 7 seed of the U.S. Championships at Forest Hills in 1954. “Oh, I was adequate enough to earn my expenses and keep body and soul together, but that was about it. But that was the way I really got my education. I’d usually lose out early enough in the week that I’d become quite a sightseer. And by associating with the kind of people who were around the tournaments, you could certainly learn how to use a knife and fork the right way.”
The education was put to good use when Williams tired of the tennis-bum lifestyle and returned to South Africa to enter private business in the late Fifties. His first big break was landing the South African distributorship for Queen Anne scotch, which quickly became one of the 10 most popular liquors in the country. From there, he branched into marketing “Imperial Tennis Gut,” a substance used to string rackets before nylon was developed.
When tennis went “open” in 1968, Williams was one of those entrepreneurs primed to cash in, already having promoted pro tournaments for 10 years. Soon enough, he was hired by WCT to run a tournament for WCT in South Africa, beginning the association that continues today. In the process, Williams pioneered such concepts as box seating, corporate sponsorships, marquee tents and lucrative broadcast contracts, experience that came in handy, to say the least, when he found himself in the highly competitive struggle for the American entertainment dollar. Substance, he learned, was essential, but a little style in presenting it never seemed to hurt, either.
It is a philosophy central to WCT, and one perfectly in accord with a city that likes to be shown a black-tie good time. So it is that the WCT Finals is not so much a simple tennis tournament, but a week-long event. The night before the opening round matches, Adelstein jewelers will host a party for 1,200 to kick off the week. An international media conference and luncheon is highlighted by the presentation of a sculptured all-gold tennis ball to the top point man on the tour leading to the finals. (In this case, McEnroe.) During the tournament, the Trailbazer Club operates in colorful tents outside the arena, providing food, drink and entertainment for special ticket buyers (particularly those of the corporate persuasion). Lamar and Norma Hunt host a reception at the Hunt’s mansion during the week, and a celebration dinner- expected to raise nearly $150,000 for the Dallas Society for Crippled Children this year-is held after the two semifinal matches.
The intent, of course, is to make WCT an integral part of the Dallas community, something Williams fears has been lacking a bit in the past. The tournament, he’s quick to note, has always been well-attended and well-received, but familiarity may have bred a bit of apathy on both sides. It’s a situation, Williams insists, that WCT would like to change.
“I don’t want to be a Moaning Millie about it, but I do wish the tournament meant a little more to people here,” he says. “I don’t know that it is appreciated as much as it should be. When they put on the auto race last summer, there was a happening, an euphoria about auto racing. I asked Lamar Hunt and [WCT President] Al Hill Jr. if we’d ever enjoyed that sort of position. They said, yes, when we first started, the pride in the event was incredible.
“I’m trying to recharge the batteries a little. It’s sort of like the middle part of a marriage-it isn’t new anymore. And really, a lot of that is our fault. We might have become a bit complacent.
“Now, with the peace in tennis, we want Dallas to know it has one of the very most prestigious events in the world. We have Super Bowl status. We don’t have to worry about the field. We have network television on CBS, and by April 12, we expect to have sold TV in 30 countries. It will be the biggest television event happening in this town. After Dallas, the soap, the “Buick” is the most watched event to come out of this city.”
THE POWERS THAT BE
The top touring pros in Dallas
Undoubtedly, Dallas boasts one of the all-time top touring prcs in Martina Navratilova. But. according to local pros, the Czech-born power hitter would have a hard time upsetting any of our top 10-or the top 100, for that matter.
Tracy DeLatte: A New Orleans native who now operates out of Dallas. He won doubles title at WCT’s Tournament of Champions with Johan Kriek in 1982 and 1983.
Craig Kardon: A former R.L. Turner High standout who played at the University of Texas and is now a touring pro.
Andy Kohlberg: Was born in New York City but now lives in Dallas. Was an Ail-American at the University of Tennessee and member of the U.S. Davis Cup team in 1977-79.
Martina Navratilova: The top women’s player in the game today, having won all the Grand Slam championships.
Robert Pellizzi: Currently on the college circuit, Pellizzi is regarded as a strong tournament player.
Bill Scanlon: Dallas native who won the NCAA singles title while playing for Trinity University in 1976. Has career wins over John McEnroe and llie Nastase. Sponsors the Dallas Youth Foundation.
Dick Stockton: A New York native who settled in Dallas in the mid-Seventies. He was a top 10 player and reached the WCT FINALS title match against Jimmy Connors in 1977.
Jeff Turpin: This former SMU star has a big serve and is a quick, all-around player.
Robert Van’t Hof: A 6 foot 4 former All American at Southern California. He now lives in Dallas and has attained a ranking as high as 31 in the world. He reached the final 16 at Wimbledon in 1983 and won NCAA singles title in 1980.
Local hard hitters who love this racket
Even if they’re not paid to be on the court, com-petiveness runs deep with these local powerhouses. Have you heard about the “Triple Threat”: Former Cowboy Preston Pearson, Cowboy Rafael Septien and Mavericks assistant coach Bob Weiss? Don’t tangle with this set; they put as much energy into charging the net as they do charging the Washington Redskins or the L.A. Lakers. We wouldn’t advise taking on the rest of this list, either, without a pair of nuclear Nikes or a bionic backswing.
Dennis Ralston: An original WCT “Handsome Eight” and former Wimbledon doubles champ, Ralston was once the stormy petrol of tennis-today he’s the men’s coach at SMU, one of the U.S.’s top teams.
Owen Williams: A quarter-finalist at Wimbledon, the WCT director has toured the world and is considered by all as one of Dallas’ top players.
Bob Folsom: An ex-mayor, good player and a competitor in tennis as in North Dallas real estate.
Tom Landry: In doubles. Landry can play with the best of them. He shows a lot of emotion on the tennis court and does get excited like the rest of us.
Gary Hogeboom: Together with tennis ace Owen Williams, he won the Pro-am Celebrity at Brookha-ven in 1984. and is considered a good club player. There’s no confusion here as to who’s the starter.
Norm Sonju: Recovering from an elbow operation, we’re expecting the Dallas Mavericks General Manager to be back in top form soon.
Chuck McKinley: Now a stockbroker, this former Davis Cupper won Wimbledon and even today that’s still the world title. What more do you need to say?
Warren Jacques: Although he’s off globetrotting with Curren and Denton most of the year, this Aussie stock broker’s still a denizen of Dallas.
Starke Taylor: The Dallas mayor who volleys on the tennis court – and in the mayoral race – with accomplished skill.
Charles Pister: The Chairman of RepublicBank Dallas is a consistent player.
Bobby Stewart: It’s hard to get a ball by the president of International Bank.
Gene Bishop: The MCorp. chairman has a strong forehand – sans cigar.
Charlie Pride: A country and western star who plays with enthusiasm.
Tony Hill: The wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys has come on fast, and is regarded as a strong player with good potential.
Dennis Thurman: The safety for the Cowboys wants to beat Tony. Thurman’s one of the most improved players on the team.
Rolando Blackmail: The NBA All-star of the Mavericks has a good serve and volley and guards the net like a real pro.
Chuck Howley: This former Super Bowl MVP uses his forehand as a weapon on the court.
Bob Dedman: The country-club czar keeps a good form on and off the courts at least twice a week despite a a busy schedule.
Bobby Collins: A new player and coach of SMU football team.
Peter Snell: The winner of three Olympic Gold medals in 1960 and 1964 Games in mile and 800 meters is a strong player.
Mike Davies: Former Welsh Davis Cup star now lives in Arlington as executive director of the Association of Tennis Professionals. Former WCT Executive Director for 10 years.
Mark Aguirre: During the off season, this Mav star has worked hard on his game.
Ed Cox Sr.: Considered a guiding light in local tennis circles, this power broker likes to hit off the forehand. And he’s getting lots of practice in his new luxury indoor court.
Ray Nasher: The NorthPark developer is a mail-around player.
Margot Perot: With a nice, steady style. Margo labors hard and is a strong net player.
Bill Clements: With a new hip joint, the former governor can swivel all over the court and is a good doubles player to boot.
Jim Rolfe. A U.S. attorney who’s more at home on a court than in one.
Jacque Wynne: A hard worker, Jacques form on the court is almost as good as it is on the ice.
Brad Davis: Not many competitors get a shot around this Maverick point guard. Davis does what it takes to return the ball.
Nancy Jeffett: Although she doesn’t play much any more. Jeffet’s one of the ten most influential people in women’s tennis in the world.
UPSTARTS AND THE YOUNG AT HEART
Dallas’ best young players and amateurs
Michael Flanagan, No.1 in Texas and No. 71 nationally, Boys 12 division.
Mike Knowles, No. 3 in Texas and No. 89 nationally, Boys 14 division.
T.J. Middleton, No.1 in Texas and No.62 na-tionally, Boys 16 division.
Kenny Rilee, No.1 in Texas and No. 56 nationally, Boys 18 division.
Lisa Rosenburg, No.7 in Texas, Girls 12 division
Claire Sessions, No.5 in Texas, Girls 14 division
Jennifer Santrock, No.2 in Texas and No.81 nationally. Girls 16 division.
Kay Tittle, No.1 in Texas and No.13 nationally, Girls 18 division.
Bud Guion, formerly the pro at BTCC, now simply one of the top playing pros in Texas.
Frank Mitchell, a Dallas doctor and the reigning amateur champ of Dallas.
Bart Bernstein, No.2. Championship Mens Singles.
Greg Kendle, No.3, Amateur Mens Singles.
Bobby Hagerman, No 2. Mens 25 Singles.
Dick Landerberger, No.4, Mens 40 Singles.
Jody Williams, No.2. Mens 50 Singles.
Paul Thompson, No.1. Mens 55 Singles.
Walt Russell, No.6. Mens 60 Singles.
Julian Meer, No. 6. Mens 65 Singles.
Lynn Baker, No.4. Mens 70 Singles.
Fred Royer, No.1. Mens 75 Singles.
Maria Watson, No.2. Championship Womens Singles.
Nancy McKinney, No.19. Amateur Womens Singles
Susan Daniel, No.18, Womens 25 Singles.
Andrea Rains, No.5. Womens 35 Singles.
Roz Jacobs, No.2. Womens 40 Singles.
Nancy Penson, No.4, Womens 55 Singles.
WCT matches up the world’s best
World Ranking: (Feb 25) 1
Born: Feb. 16, 1959, at Wiesbaden, West
Resides: New York, N.Y.
Height and Weight: 5-10, 160
THE PAST SIX years Dallas tennis fans have seen John McEnroe methodically reach the Championship Match of the WCT Finals now sponsored by Buick. In four of those six years, McEnroe has emerged the winner. The closest players to him in career performance in Dallas are Ken Rosewall and Jimmy Connors with two wins each. During that time McEnroe has won $600,000 in Dallas. Last year his 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 triumph over Connors in the final was complete. It started McEnroe off to his best year as a pro-a year in which he won Wimbledon, the Grand Prix Masters and U.S. Open by dominating the best in the game. He began 1985 the same way by winning the U.S. Pro Indoor in Philadelphia and his second straight Masters. He has also shown his versatility by defeating some of the top clay court players in the world in back-to-back years at the WCT Tournament of Champions in New York. At 26, McEnroe is the undisputed No. 1 player in the world.
World Ranking: (Feb 25) 2
Born: Sept. 2, 1952, at Belleville, III.
Resides: Sanibel Harbor, Fla.
Height and Weight: 5-10, 155
THE PAST YEAR has not been a typical Jimmy Connors year. After the hot comeback seasons of 1982 and 1983, he had a mediocre run in 1984 and early 1985. Although he failed to win a Grand Slam or Circuit Championship level event, Connors captured Super Series events at Boca West, Los Angeles, to make his way back to Dallas for the fourth time. He won the inaugural WCT Finals in Reunion Arena in 1980 by dethroning John McEnroe. Previously, he cut down Dick Stockton for the WCT Trophy in 1977. Connors is a satisfied champion during his latter playing years. He and wife Patti welcomed their second child late last year and he is more at ease with family responsibility. However, Connors still can produce the magic of old. He even relishes the intensity of a high-stakes match. At last year’s U.S. Open, Connors and McEnroe locked horns in a tremendous five-set battle. When McEnroe won, preventing Connors from reaching the final of his third straight U.S. Open, Connors, with son Brett by his leg, commented to a nearby friend, “Thanks a lot for your help this week. I enjoyed this match.” Connors has the same feeling about playing in Reunion Arena. He feels comfortable and enjoys the scene at Reunion Arena. Plus, he is a crowd favorite when he comes to Dallas.
World Ranking: (Feb 25) 3
Born: March 7, 1960, at Ostrava, Czechoslovakia
Resides: Greenwich, Conn.
Height and weight: 6-2, 175
A THIGH INJURY kept this Dallas favorite out of the 1984 Buick WCT Finals field at the last minute. He dominated the 1982 WCT World Series of Tennis, blasting his way to a record-tying 15 championships. That year included a 44-match win streak dating back to 1981. He had John McEnroe reeling with seven straight match losses and unseated the New Yorker for the 1982 Buick WCT Finals Championship. His 10 WCT victories that year provided the bulk of his record one-year total in prize money: $2,028,650. Over a two-week period in winning the Buick WCT Finals and the WCT Tournament of Champions, Lendl collected a handsome sum of $687,250, including bonuses. His forehand is one of the most dangerous shots in the game. For many years, Lendl was hassled by a tag that he could never win a Grand Slam event. He cured that in 1984 by staging a dramatic comeback to defeat McEnroe for the French Open crown. That victory cleared the way for his direct entry into Dallas this year. Few tennis fans who were on hand will ever forget his 1983 Dallas final against McEnroe. The two players went tooth and nail for four hours and 16 minutes to decide who would win the first prize of $150,000 and who would settle for the runner-up money of $50,000. McEnroe’s serve carried him to victory in the sudden-death tiebreaker. But most observers felt there were no losers in that match.
World Ranking: (Feb 25) 4
Born: Aug. 22, 1964, at Vaxjo, Sweden
Resides: Monte Carlo, Monaco
Height and weight: 6-1, 175
MATS WILANDER makes his first trip to the Buick WCT Finals, seeking his first major indoor victory. However, he has already shown his world-class versatility in a few short years on the pro scene. In 1982, he shocked the tennis establishment by becoming the youngest male to ever win a Grand Slam singles title. He did it by defeating the best clay court players in the world at the French Open. Playing on the grass is drastically different than playing on European clay. Thus, Wilander scored a major triumph when he won the Australian Open in 1983. He came back to repeat that victory last December and gained automatic entry into Dallas. He had already won Dallas qualifying events in Cincinnati and Barcelona to set his sights on Big D. Later in December, he led Sweden to a crushing defeat of the United States Davis Cup team in Sweden. Only two years before, Wilander played one of his most memorable matches in an early Davis Cup round against John McEnroe of the United States. After six and a half hours, McEnroe emerged as the weary winner. It was Wil-ander’s best indoor match to date. He finished on top on the Grand Prix point standings in 1983, which was an amazing achievement in only two years on the tour. He has won 16 tour victories in only three years. The question is, what awaits him in Dallas and the next few years?
World Ranking: (Feb. 25) 5
Born: Feb. 27, 1960, at Guayaquil, Ecuador
Resides: Guayaquil, Ecuador Height and Weight: 6-3, 190
A FEW YEARS ago he was described as erratic, but today he is one of the most consistent players in the game. A pupil of the legendary Australian coach Harry Hopman, Gomez uses a power serve and volley game rooted on a potent serve. His volley has improved, and together with a whiplash forehand stroke, he has put himself in the same class with Ivan Lendl or Aaron Krickstein. Pressure in big tournaments once gave him problems, but now he’s handling it much better. In his magic year of 1984, he reached the quarterfinals of three Grand Slam tournaments all played on a different surface. However, to get to the BUCK WCT FINALS, he relied on Grand Prix Super Series victories at the Italian Open, Washington and the U.S. Clay Court in Indianapolis. It’s not uncommon when the happy-go-lucky Ecuadorian is playing a major match for a contingent of fans to gather in the stadium to root for their man which they call “Go-Go.” Gomez added two more tournament victories at Nice and Hong Kong, giving him five for 1984 Dallas fans remember his 1983 Grand Prix victory at a Super Series event played at the Las Colinas Sports Club Regardless if he is the champion or a first round loser, Gomez is always prepared to issue a friendly greeting. But despite his disposition, he plays a ferocious game, which has put him in the top five in the world.
THE 15TH ANNUAL WCT FINALS
DATE: Tuesday, April 9 – Sunday, April 14.
VENUE: Reunion Arena, Dallas, Texas
FORMAT: 12 man singles “knockout.” All matches will be the best of five sets. Winners of the four Grand Slam Events (French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Australian Open) automatically qualify. The rest of the field will be filled by the most prolific winners of the remaining 27 Grand Prix Super Series events in the preceding 12-month period.
CIRCUIT CHAMPIONSHIP: This will be one of the four annual Circuit Championships of the Nabisco Grand Prix.
TELEVISION: CBS and worldwide TV.
ON SITE PRIZE MONEY:
$500,000 $100,000 Winner
$ 80,000 Runner-up
$ 50,000 Semifinal
$ 25,000 Quarterfinals
$ 15,000 First Round
$ 10,000 Alternate
SURFACE: Carpet/Indoors (Supreme Court)
April 9: 6 pm 2 First Round Singles
April 10: 6 pm 2 First Round Singles
April 11: 6 pm 2 Quarterfinal Singles
April 12: 5 pm 2 Quarterfinal Singles
April 13: 10 am 2 Semifinal Singles
April 14: 9:30 am 1 Championship Final
1984 John McEnroe
1983 John McEnroe
1982 Ivan Lendl
1981 John McEnroe
1980 Jimmy Connors
1979 John McEnroe
1978 Vitas Gerulaitis
1977 Jimmy Connors
1976 Bjorn Borg
1975 Arthur Ashe
1974 John Newcombe
1973 Stan Smith
1972 Ken Rosewall
1971 Ken Rosewall