Lamar Hunt muses on 16 years of the WCT.

April 8-13,1986 Reunion Arena

Many of our out-of-town friends who have visited Dallas frequently during the past 8 to 10 years tell my wife, Norma, and me how much they think Dallas has changed over that time. They are amazed at the obvious changes in the downtown skyline, the evidence of urban growth in all directions, and yes, even that the traffic on North Central Expressway seems to be more snail-like all the time.

At the same time, these visitors are equally quick to point out that the one thing that hasn’t changed is the friendliness and good-natured approach to life displayed by virtually everyone who now refers to Big D as home.

And, during my trips outside Dallas, my own conversations with residents of places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Kansas City somehow-sooner or later-all get around to the subject of sports, and I guess I have to be honest and admit that, most of the time, I’m the one to start those conversations.

The outsider’s view of Dallas is that the changes in the Metroplex sports scene in the past decade or so-with the arrival of the NBA Mavericks and the MISL Sidekicks, both triggered by the construction of Reunion Arena, has helped make Dallas one of the best spectator sports centers in the entire country.

Now I obviously don’t disagree, but being a conservative thinker, one of the things I like the most about pro sports in Dallas is the traditional events that have been part of the local sports scene for a number of years.

Annual “happenings” on the Dallas sports calendar, like the New Year’s Day Cotton Bowl that just finished celebrating its first 50 years; the prestigious Byron Nelson Golf Classic and the appealing Maureen Connolly Brinker women’s tennis event, are part of the rhythm of life in Dallas sports. We are equally proud to offer the Buick WCT Finals. The annual spring visit of the men’s pro tennis tour shares equal billing with the Masters at Madison Square Garden as one of the four Circuit Championship events in men’s tennis.

In 1986, Dallas celebrates its 16th year as one of the top events in men’s tennis, which is now a fixture on the year long, 80-event, worldwide Nabisco Grand Prix. The tournament is scheduled this year from April 8-13 at Reunion Arena. Only real students of the game can reflect on subtle format changes, and savor the historic memories as the event has evolved through the years at its three different Dallas locations.

I am often asked which of the many WCT Final matches played over the past 15 years I remember most vividly. Obviously, it would be difficult to recall every match, but there are a number which are etched in the mind for a variety of reasons.

I am proud of my “unofficial” record of having attended the last 47 of the 50 Cotton Bowl Classics, and I am just as proud of not having missed any of the 117 matches which encompass the entire history of the WCT Finals.

My favorite recollections of the early “Dallas” years begin with the very first one in 1971. WCT, then under the direction of Executive Director Mike Davis, put together a points race connecting 20 worldwide tournaments with a meaningful championship playoff as a culmination. We played the first WCT Finals quarters and semis in Houston, and then the memorable championship match in November at Dallas’ Memorial Auditorium. It was much different in those days.

The 1971 Championship match between Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver was a good one, and I remember talk in the courtside boxes. . . . everyone thought Laver would win. We had Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, as the Honor Guest, and he presented the WCT Cup to the upset winner, Ken Rosewall, before a near sellout of 8,000 -at the time, the largest crowd ever to see a tennis match in Texas.

Of course, who could forget Dallas ’72 match between those same diminutive Aussies-Rosewall and Laver, or, as they were so distinctively known-’Muscles and Rocket.” The event moved to its now traditional spring date and into one of the most compact indoor arenas in the world-Moody Coliseum at my alma mater, SMU.

That 1972 final will forever be remembered as the event that sold pro tennis to America and T.V. NBC cameras were trained on the two exceptional men from Down Under, as they slugged away for almost four hours. A total audience of 21.7 million Americans watched the match, which a respected panel of tennis writers later named as one of the five most memorable matches in tennis history.

For Laver and his wife, Mary, it was a heartbreaking loss. He wanted to win Dallas to cap his great career. But it was never to be. He made the Exceptional Eight five more times, but was never to hold the Champion’s cup aloft.

Stan Smith blocked Laver in both 1973 and 1974. A rising star of U.S. birth, Stan won it all in 73. And the following year, it was to be John Newcombe beating a youngster from Sweden, Bjorn Borg, who showed us extraordinary talent- even as a teenager at the start of his brilliant career.

In 1975, Rocket Rod Laver played his last match in the WCT Finals in Dallas, a semifinal against Borg, which ranks as one of my personal favorites. The Teen Angel from Sodertalje won it in a four-hour epic: 7-6; 3-6; 7-6; 6-2-and Laver’s dream was ended.

I think the entire tennis world was happy to see Arthur Ashe win in 1975-Arthur was one of WCT’s biggest stars in the early years, and 75 was to be his special time in the sun as he captured both Dallas and Wimbledon in a dramatic 67-day period.

Borg finally broke through in ’76, the only time he won in five Dallas appearances, and then American Jimmy Connors and Vitas Gerulaitis saw their names added to the list of champions in ’77 and ’78.

The following year is memorable for several reasons. 1979 was WCT’s last hurrah at Moody Coliseum after eight wonderful years. The WCT Finals had become a successful sporting event, as the sport regularly attracted standing room crowds. Even the Fire Marshall had trouble getting in Moody.

On the court, a youngster named John McEnroe gave the tennis world one of its greatest weeks, one which he also ranks as one of his best. The 18-year-old Mac beat Connors and Borg back-to-back to capture his first Dallas. It was a unique “return,” for McEnroe had played at Moody in 1977 in WCT’s “Future Stars” youth event where he lost the final. What a difference two years would make!

The most vivid memory of 1980 was, of course, our move into Reunion Arena. WCT was the very first tenant-before the Mavericks or anyone. It was a scramble to get the facility ready for its debut April 28, 1980. She was a gorgeous lady but without a lot of her make-up. A lot of the paint was still wet and if the concrete seemed still fresh-it indeed was. The Reunion Arena era was ushered in by John Sadri’s first serve to Johan Kriek. It was a fault. I was sitting in the Trophy Box, and these two well-travelled young athletes became the first to entertain in the grandeur of Reunion. On the court Jimmy Connors was to cap an exciting week with his second WCT crown.

One of WCT’s classic matches was played on April 22, 1982. McEnroe had regained his title in 1981 and came to Big D the following spring as the favorite. Bill Scanlon had grown up in the Dallas area and had qualified for the Finals for the second time. There was a lot of privincial hometown backing for Bill, and he almost pulled off a stunning upset. Scanlon held several match points in the fourth set tiebreaker and the crowd was gasping on each shot. Four match points were saved, but McEnroe won the tiebreaker 10-8 and the fifth set, too, taking four hours and 41 minutes which is still the longest match in Dallas tournament history.

Also that year, we played our first and only nighttime final on Monday for the benefit of a National ESPN-TV audience. McEnroe and Ivan Lendl were the top two in the world. It was settled in Ivan’s favor on that memorable night as he won his first major international title in four sets.

By 1983, the McEnroe and Lendl rivalry had reached the boiling point. It was assuredly the best matchup in tennis. So, when they met in Dallas ’83 the tennis world figured it would be quite a battle. In retrospect no one could have projected the bizarre finish to that great athletic contest. Lendl won a close fourth-set tiebreaker to send the match to a fateful fifth set. That one reached six games-all which meant that the first player to win seven points with at least a two-point edge would earn the spoils of victory which included the $100,000 prize money difference.

McEnroe played what he called the best tiebreaker of his life, winning all seven points. But it is the last one that tennis fans will remember. The left-handed McEnroe stretched wide to his left for a lunging forehand. His whistling shot found a gap between the net and netpost. The narrow opening wasn’t supposed to be there, and in fact, the point should have been awarded to Lendl. However, the umpire Dr. Marc Cox, was sitting on the opposite side and despite Lendl’s brief protest, Cox ruled “game, set and match, McEnroe.” The Dallas crowd was still buzzing for hours afterward and video replays verified one of the more fascinating finishes in sports history.

In 1984 for the first time, WCT introduced a title sponsor for its premier event. Tennis had indeed changed over the years. We are proud that WCT has had the flexibility to change with it. We were delighted to join hands with the Buick Motor Division of General Motors, an entity long active in sports sponsorship, to participate in the Dallas tournament. They have been first-class partners, and we look forward to a long association.

Last year we welcomed CBS Sports to Dallas for the Buick WCT Finals. The combination of Saturday and Sunday telecasts showcased Dallas along with the Masters golf tournament from Augusta. They plan the same for 1986. The weekend matches are early (10:00 a.m.), so “Breakfast in Dallas” has a nice ring.

A national television audience and the thousands who will attend in person at Reunion might, in fact, find 1986 the toughest event yet to handicap.

John McEnroe’s self-imposed hiatus from tournament tennis might carry over into Dallas ’86. But if I had to bet, I’d think John will be at Reunion to shoot for an unprecedented fifth championship.

For sure, Ivan Lendl’s strong play the past two or three months makes him a strong contender, as he tries to place his name on the WCT Cup for the third time. Ivan is a firm #1 in the world at present, but equally important will be the challenges from three other Grand Slam winners who’ve earned their way during the 12 qualifying months: French Open winner Mats Wilander; the Wimbledon sensation, 18-year-old West German, “Wunderkind” Boris Becker; and Wilander’s fellow Swede, Stefan Edberg, who startled the tennis world with his surprise win in the Australian Open. Frenchman Yannick Noah has also qualified for Dallas with the four Super Series events remaining in March, at LaQuinta, an, Brussels, and Ft. Myers to firmly set the make-up of the 12 young men who will vie for the 1986 Buick crown.

Over the past 15 years, 57 exceptional athletes from 17 different countries as diverse as India, Ecuador, and Rumania, have helped make the WCT Finals among the most international and colorful events of the entire sports year. The Honor Roll of Champions reads like a Who’s Who of the modern pro game, and we are proud to represent tennis and the City of Dallas in the world of sports.

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