The world of professional tennis couldn’t be further removed from the tennis circuit of 50 years ago – and it’s largely thanks to a Welshman that the revolutionary changes took place.
Born in Swansea, Mike Davis first began playing tennis at the Cwmdonkin Park municipal tennis courts at the age of 11. As the only Welshman to ever play in a Wimbledon final, he paved the way for modern tennis to become one of the world’s most-watched and richest sports.
He was discovered playing junior tournaments by tennis ace Fred Perry and leading commentator Dan Maskell. He went on to become Britain’s number one player, reaching the 1960 Wimbledon Men’s Doubles final with partner Bobby Wilson.
Going on to develop some innovative changes to improve conditions for spectators and players, he was spurred on by his own financial struggles on his travels around the world to tennis tournaments. He was largely responsible for re-designing tennis for television audiences, heralding the start of today’s professional era.
His vision of big television contracts came to fruition in 1972, when NBC broadcast the first major network event – a tennis match between Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver. He later formed and led a breakaway tennis body; World Championship Tennis.
Davies suggested standardised yellow tennis balls, a 30-second time limit between points, a 90-second changeover period every two games, players’ coloured clothing and multi-million £ television deals… and the rest is history!
Davies wrote a biography, Tennis Rebel, for which he received the President’s Award from Tennis Wales at the age of 78, in recognition of his achievements. He has been described by tennis professionals as “an inspiration to a generation of Welsh players”.
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