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1974-1978 New York Sets & New York Apples

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World Team Tennis (1974-1978)

Born: 1973 – WTT founding franchise
Died:
October 27, 1978 – The Apples cease operations

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: Sol Berg

 

The New York Sets/Apples were a pro tennis franchise active in Manhattan from 1974 to 1978.   The club was active for all five season of World Team Tennis (1974-1978), a funky little organization that attempted to graft the classic tropes of American professional team sports (team scoring, standings, cheerleaders, booing and cheering) onto the hushed, snooty atmosphere of the pro tennis tour.   The league was founded in 1973 by serial sports entrepreneur Dennis Murphy in partnership with the game’s greatest female star, Billie Jean King, her husband/business partner Larry King, and a few others investors.

Jerry Saperstein, son of Harlem Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein, originally held the New York franchise but quickly sold it off to Sol Berg.  WTT owners were inexplicably enamored with team names relating to the rules and equipment of the game.  Loves, Nets, Racquets and Strings were among franchise monikers.  New York ended up with one of the dullest and least imaginative – the New York Sets.

The Sets debuted on May 7, 1974, losing to the Hawaii Leis before an announced crowd of 4,990 at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum.  Under WTT’s novel scoring system, each match consisted of five sets – one each of men’s singles and doubles, women’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles.  There were no love or advantages – each game of a set was simply scored zero, 1, 2, 3, game.  Match scoring was simply the cumulative games won from each of the five sets.

The Sets finished in the cellar in 1974 with a 15-29 record.  Fans were largely indifferent – the club drew an average of just 2,869 for 22 home dates during the summer.  But the Sets’ fortunes changed in February 1975 when the Sets traded for league founder Billie Jean King, whose Philadelphia Freedoms franchise was about to go under.   King, still a formidable player at age 31, made the team an immediate contender.  The Sets made the playoffs in 1975 and won the World Team Tennis championship in 1976, sweeping the Oakland-based Golden Gaters.  The decisive match drew 5,730 to the Nassau Coliseum in late August.

In 1977 the club moved into Manhattan, splitting dates between the 17,800-seat Madison Square Garden and the more intimate 3,700-seat Felt Forum tucked inside the Garden. To celebrate the move, the club also re-branded, dropping the dreadful “Sets” nickname and becoming the New York Apples for the 1977 season.

The Garden was favored for bigger matches, such as a June 6, 1977 match against the Phoenix Racquets which showcased the two biggest stars of the women’s pro tour: Billie Jean King of the Sets and Chris Evert of the Racquets.  The match drew a league record 13,675 fans.  The Apples repeated as WTT champions in 1977 and attendance surged 38% with the move to Manhattan, topping 100,000 for the season and an average of 4,939 per match.

For the 1978 season, the Apples added a male superstar to pair with King, adding 23-year old Vitas Gerulaitis, who ranked as one of the top five males in the world at the time.  The Apples also added a 21-year old rookie out of Douglaston, New York named Mary Carillo.  Carillo would go on to become one of the great broadcasters of tennis and a highly respected reporter on HBO’s Real Sports and NBC’s Olympics coverage in the 1990’s and 2000’s.

There would be no third straight title for the Apples in 1978.  The New Yorkers ran into another star-studded team in the playoff semi-finals – the Los Angeles Strings led by Evert and the temperamental Romanian Ilie Nastase.  Here JoAnne Russell of the Apples takes on Evert in the decisive August 24th, 1978 semi-final match:

The Strings ousted the defending champion Apples on this night and went on to win the final championship of World Team Tennis in September 1978.  This televised match turned out to be the final one the Apples franchise ever played.  Team owner Sol Berg shutdown the Apples on October 27, 1978 in tandem with Boston Lobsters owner Robert Kraft.  Berg and Kraft cited an inability (or unwillingness – it wasn’t totally clear) of WTT owners to sign the biggest stars of the men’s and women’s game as their reason for withdrawing.

 

==Downloads==

1978 New York Apples Media Guide

1975 World Team Tennis Season Advertising Rates Brochure

 

==Links==

World Team Tennis Media Guides

World Team Tennis Programs

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June 16, 1978 – Indiana Loves vs. Phoenix Racquets

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Indiana Loves vs. Phoenix Racquets
June 16, 1978
Market Square Arena
World Team Tennis Programs
80 pages

 

Rare match program from the final season of the original World Team Tennis (1974-1978), Billie Jean King’s oddball co-ed tennis league that haunted the nation’s hockey arenas for five summers in the mid-1970’s.

This June 16, 1978 match pitted the Indiana Loves against the Phoenix Racquets at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.  The night marked the return to Indianapolis of Racquets players Sue Barker and Syd Ball,who both played for the Loves in 1977.  Barker, 20, of England won the 1976 French Open before signing on with World Team Tennis.  True to the Indiana Loves brand name, she went head over heels for Ball, her 26-year old Australian teammate during the 1977 WTT season.  At the end of the season, Barker and Ball asked Loves management to package them together should the team consider trading either one of them.  In the winter before the 1978 season, the couple announced their engagement and were traded together to the Phoenix Racquets.

Can’t find any record of whether the pair ever did marry, but by the early 1980’s Barker was linked romantically to the English pop star Cliff Richard.

The Loves had a strong Australian connection that summer.  Indiana’s formidable 1978 trio of Aussies – Player/Coach Allan Stone, Geoff Masters and Dianne Fromholtz – all won Grand Slam doubles titles during 1977.  Before arriving in Indiana, Fromholtz was the subject of another World Team Tennis love connection.  While playing for the league’s Los Angeles Strings, she was briefly engaged to Johnny Buss, son of the Strings’ owner Dr. Jerry Buss (yes, the future owner of the Lakers and the Kings).  But Fromholtz’s engagement to the son didn’t prevent the father from trading her away to San Diego.

After the 1978 WTT season concluded, eight of the league’s ten franchises folded, citing cumulative losses of $30 million over five seasons.  The Loves were among the casualties, throwing in the towel on November 9th, 1978.  The league folded shortly thereafter.

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Loves President William Bereman passed away young at the age of 54 in April 1996.

Billie Jean King helped launch a lower-budget re-boot of World Team Tennis in 1981 and that league continues to muddle along  in quiet respectability more than thirty years later.  One big difference: the World Team Tennis franchises of today play at small country club stadiums rather than the 15,000-seat hockey arenas of the 1970’s league.

Downloads:

Indiana Loves vs. Phoenix Racquets Game Notes – June 16, 1978

Written by AC

September 7th, 2012 at 12:41 am

1974-1978 Hawaii Leis / Sea-Port Cascades / Seattle Cascades

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World Team Tennis (1974-1978)

Born: 1974 – World Team Tennis founding franchise.
Died: November 1978 – World Team Tennis ceases operations.

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: Don Kelleher

 

World Team Tennis launched in 1974, intent on bringing top flight tennis out of the polite confines of the country clubs and into America’s raucous hockey and basketball palaces.  Founders Dennis Murphy, Jordan Kaiser and Larry King (husband of league front woman Billie Jean King) sought to sell the product through a combination of star power, promotional gimmickry and nods to established team sports tropes.

Matches took place on candy-colored courts.  Organizers encouraged fans to cheer loudly during rallies and to heckle opponents.  World Team Tennis introduced a co-ed team sports league to the national sporting scene, drafting off the sensational publicity from the previous year’s “Battle of the Sexes” tennis exhibition between Bobby Riggs and King, the new league’s marquee female star.  Top male players who signed on for 1974 included Jimmy Connors, Tom Okker and John Newcombe.

Teams were composed of three men and three women, playing two sets each of men’s and women’s singles and two sets of mixed doubles.  (This format was quickly abandoned after early matches dragged on for up to four hours, replaced by a five-set format, featuring one set each of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles).  The league featured a simplified “no-ad” scoring system meant to appeal to a broader swath of American sports fans, with 4 points winning a game, rather than the traditional Love-15-30-40 scoring familiar to tennis enthusiasts.

Some of the innovations didn’t sit well with Dennis Ralston, the U.S. Davis Cup captain and traditionalist player/coach of the Hawaii Leis, one of sixteen World Team Tennis franchises that debuted in May of 1974.

“Tennis is not like baseball,” Ralston complained to The Associated Press after one month of play in June 1974. “In Philadelphia and Baltimore, people would yell ‘Miss it!’ when you were serving and the announcers encourage them…pretty soon people will start throwing bottles.”

The Leis were owned by Don Kelleher, a lumber salesman from San Rafael, California.  Home matches took place at the 7,500-seat Honolulu International Center as well as the gym at Honolulu’s McKinley High School.  The 1974 edition of the Leis finished last in World Team Tennis’ Pacific Division with a 14-30 record.  In the 16-team league, only the 13-31 Buffalo-Toronto Royals fared worse.  It would be the only time in the three-year history of the lowly Leis that another team finished with a grimmer record.

In April 1975, one month before the start of WTT’s second season, the Leis signed the 32-year old Australian star Margaret Court.  Court won all four Grand Slam singles tournaments in 1970, becoming the first of only three women ever to do so.  One month later, the Leis got an unexpected opportunity to pair another marquee name with Court when the Houston E-Z Riders franchise abruptly folded on the eve of the season, leaving the league’s biggest male star without an employer.  At age 30,  Australian John Newcombe owned 23 Grand Slam titles in singles and doubles competition.  In 1973, Newcombe had been the first male star to sign a contract with World Team Tennis, defying his Association of Tennis Professionals union which initially opposed its members joining the un-sanctioned league.

But Newcombe struggled through an injury-plagued campaign with the Leis in 1975.  In a WTT match against the Pittsburgh Triangles in June, Newcombe tore cartilage in his knee, which caused him to miss Wimbledon.  The 1975 Leis finished 14-30 for the second straight year, tied for the worst record in World Team Tennis.  Neither Court nor Newcombe would return in 1976.

In December 1975, the Leis inked the combustible 29-year old Romanian Ilie Nastase to a one-year contract for the 1976 season worth a reported $125,000.  Nastase’s arrival was a coup for Leis owner Don Kelleher and all of World Team Tennis.  The top male players had been somewhat slow to join the league and Nastase was a legitimate superstar and publicity magnet- winner of the 1972 U.S. Open and 1973 French Open and the ATP’s #1 ranked male player for 1973.  With Nastase under contract, the Leis cut John Newcombe loose, selling his negotiating rights to the Los Angeles Strings.  Meanwhile, Margaret Court retired to have her third child.

Despite Nastase’s presence, the Leis still averaged fewer than 3,000 fans per match during the first half of the 1976 WTT campaign.  In early July, Kelleher announced that the team would move six late season matches to Portland, Oregon’s Memorial Coliseum and the Seattle Center Coliseum to test those markets for a potential relocation of the franchise in 1977.  The Leis continued to regress on the court, finishing dead last in World Team Tennis’ 10-team format with a 12-32 record.  Kelleher made the move to the Pacific Northwest official in a September 1976 press conference, announcing that his club would be known as the Sea-Port Cascades in 1977 while splitting matches between Portland and Seattle.

The 1977 Sea-Port Cascades were a rather unglamorous group.  Nastase did not make the move to the Pacific Northwest, signing instead with the Los Angeles Strings.   By World Team Tennis’ fourth season in 1977, the league had attracted many of the sport’s top stars, including Bjorn Borg (Cleveland-Pittsburgh), Rod Laver (San Diego), Nastase (Los Angeles), Chris Evert (Phoenix), Martina Navratilova (Boston) and Billie Jean King in New York, alongside the 1977 Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade.  The Cascades biggest “name” was the Dutch doubles specialist Betty Stove, who lost to Wade in the 1977 Wimbledon singles final.  Tom Gorman of the United States signed on as the Cascades player/coach.

The 1977 Cascades finished 18-26, good enough for fourth place and a franchise first: a playoff appearance.  The division-winning Phoenix Racquets, led by Evert, made quick work of the Cascades, dispatching them in the WTT quarterfinals.

Kelleher moved the club to Seattle full-time for the 1978 season and sold minority interests in the team to four area businessmen.  The Cascades added one-off appearances to the schedule in Boise, Corvallis and Portland, to go with 19 home dates at the Seattle Center Coliseum.  Under Gorman’s direction as player/coach once again, the re-named Seattle Cascades posted a 20-24 record in 1978.  It was the franchise’s fifth consecutive losing season dating back to the Hawaii days, but also their best performance and it earned the club its second straight playoff berth.  In the quarterfinals, the Cascades upset the division winning San Diego Friars.  The Boston Lobsters eliminated the Cascades in the World Team Tennis semi-finals in late August 1978.

After the season, World Team Tennis named Cascades doubles specialist Sherwood Stewart as the league’s most valuable first-year player for 1978.  Meanwhile, Kelleher and his Seattle-based minority partners announced the club would not return to Seattle and explored selling the team to Houston interests due to disappointing attendance.  The Cascades averaged only 1,695 fans per match in 1978, down from 3,100 per game in 1977 when the club split matches between Portland and Seattle.

The effort became moot when the Cascades and the rest of World Team Tennis folded in November 1978.

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Former Hawaii Leis Margaret Court, Ilie Nastase and Dennis Ralston have all been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

A scaled back version of Team Tennis returned in 1981, with smaller venues, fewer contemporary stars and far less media attention.  The league later revived the “World Team Tennis” brand name and continues to play today, typically in country club settings rather than the large hockey and basketball arenas of the 1970’s.’

 

==Downloads==

1975 Hawaii Leis pre-season roster & bios

1975 World Team Tennis Season Advertising Rates Brochure

Hawaii Leis / Sea-Port Cascades Sources

 

==Links==

World Team Tennis Media Guides

World Team Tennis Programs

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