Mike Davies: The man who shaped modern tennis

Mike Davies (r) Image copyright Mike Davies
Image caption Mike Davies (right) fought his way from the courts of Swansea to Wimbledon

You may not have heard of him but Mike Davies can justly lay claim to helping shape modern tennis into the global success story it is today.

As Wimbledon builds to a thrilling finish this weekend, the 78-year-old Welshman can proudly look back at how he helped create a game suitable for the television age.

The self-described tennis rebel - who grew up in Swansea and played at Cwmdonkin Park, a place more closely associated with Dylan Thomas - was no mean player either.

He became the only Welshman to reach a Wimbledon final when he lost in the men's doubles final in 1960 with Bobby Wilson.

But in what was an amateur era, he turned professional putting him at odds with the tennis authorities in Britain and leading to him being kicked out of GB's Davis Cup team.

It turned out to be the making of him as he joined many of the world's top players on a global circuit before becoming a promoter and administrator who would drag the game into the late 20th Century.

Image copyright John Bristow
Image caption Mike Davies played on the tennis courts of Cwmdonkin Park as a boy
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mike Davies was inducted into the tennis hall of fame in 2012

As executive director of the World Championship Tennis professional tour from 1968, he staged tournaments and sold sponsorship and television rights, taking professional tennis to big stadiums and major cities.

Davies, who lives in Florida these days, made this happen through radical innovations that are now accepted as part and parcel of the modern game.

The yellow ball comes as standard nowadays but white was the colour before Davies intervened.

"We were the first to get rid of the white ball because we were trying to get on television," he said.

"People were saying they had a lot of trouble following the white ball.

Image copyright Mike Davies
Image caption Mike Davies (left) and tennis star Rod Laver, who was a big hit with the TV audience
Image copyright Mike Davies
Image caption Mike Davies (left) with tennis champion Fred Perry

"Because we were playing on a blue indoor court, they said we should try orange but it evolved into a yellow tennis ball.

"It took 10 years for Wimbledon to do it after we did it."

There were other changes designed to appeal to a television audience too.

"The American public wanted to tell the difference between players so we said we were going to bring in coloured clothing," he said.

"It was the first time coloured clothing was used because it was all traditional white then."

Other innovations included the 30-second maximum time between points and the 90-second changeover every two games, which meant enough time for commercials to be shown on TV.

Tie breaks during tournaments? Yes, he was ahead of the pack there too.

He also led the way in developing big television contracts for tennis and fondly remembers the thrilling World Championship Tennis final in 1972 between Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver which drew a huge TV audience in the United States.

Image copyright Mike Davies
Image caption Mike Davies reached the Wimbledon men's doubles final in 1960

Davies, who was inducted into the international tennis hall of fame in 2012, was quick to realise that the sport could not stand still if it was to thrive in an age where success was measured by TV ratings.

"I basically understood very, very fast in my career, as a sport, if we weren't on television we weren't going to be a major sport in the world," he said.

It all seems a far cry from when he started playing on the courts of Swansea, including Cwmdonkin Park close to Dylan Thomas's childhood home and where the poet played as a boy.

Davies said: "I used to play on the courts at Langland Bay, Rosehill and Cwmdonkin Park.

"I came back to Cwmdonkin Park in January this year and walked on those courts for the first time in over 60 years. I felt good about it.

"They used to try to get me off the courts at nine o'clock at night because I wouldn't come off!"

His career was to take him far away from Swansea as he headed overseas to create a lasting mark on the game that he still adores and plays three times a week.

"I love the game and have always loved the game. It's been my life and passion," he said.

"It's been everything to me."

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