(Nikola Pilic Story about the first 50 years of professional tennis)
“When I entered the 1973 Roland Garros final, I got 7,000 dollars, but after all the expenses - because I needed to live 22 days in Paris – a left France with just 500 dollars. Today, the finalist receives more than $ 1 million and Novak Djokovic became the first ever player who exceeded 100,000,000 $ in prize money in ATP tournaments. What could I buy for 500 dollars? For instance, at that time one night in Holiday Inn cost about 25 dollars... That year, 1973, BNP Paribas commenced its partnership with Roland Garros. That logo became one of the trademarks of new tennis era... ”
Feature film „Open Era“ follows the development of professional tennis in its first half century (1968-2018) through the observations and analysis of Nikola Pilic, pioneer of Open Era, which was born in the most turbulent year for the mankind after the WW II – 1968. The spark of student protests escalated into a fire that threatened to overturn the entire world order. Armless youth, inspired by leftist ideas focused on the Vietnam War, economic crisis, cold war and social inequality, were confronted with huge police forces. Few months after the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Bobby Kennedy, American track and field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos lifted their hands with black gloves during medal award ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, protesting because of violation of rights of black people in America. That was the time when efforts to improve the status of tennis players began, which was overshadowed by dramatic events throughout the planet.
As member of “Handsome Eight”, Pilic participated in one of the biggest ever revolutions not just in tennis, but in sport in general. He is much more than all the trophies and records he won, both his playing and coaching career follows in the footpaths of the rise of tennis to the heights it occupies today, more glamorous than ever, yet with problems caused by gigantic sums of prize money. Where are the limits of modern tennis, is there any genuine childlike play in professional tennis that carries away the players from an earliest age, or do they increasingly see that magic rectangular polygon as a gladiators’ arena and its insatiable crowds
There is no other expert than Pilic, who can explain what tennis was then and what it is now, because he was top player and herald of a new era, whilst as a coach he set standards difficult to match. As a player, he won three tournaments in singles and six in doubles, including 1970 US Open, playing beside Frenchman Pierre Barthes. His best achievements in singles event was 1973 Roland Garros final, where he was beaten by Romanian Ilie Nastase. As a coach, he is the Davis Cup record holder with five titles (three with Germany, one with Croatia and Serbia respectively) and he is the only one who did it with three different national teams. Four of his protégés lifted Grand Slam trophies: Boris Becker, Michael Stich, Goran Ivanisevic i Novak Djoković. More than 40 players coached by him reached Top 100 at ATP ranking list.
Side by side with these records, noted on the golden pages of Pilic’s biography, is not only his revolutionary role in professionalizing tennis, but also the biggest boycott in the history of that sport, when as many as 81 tennis players (including reigning champion Stan Smith from USA), in solidarity with him, cancelled their participation at 1973 Wimbledon. That was, according to him, one of the most important awards he ever received, the fact that so many top tennis players had supported him when the Tennis Association of Yugoslavia banned him from participating at Wimbledon, for having refused to play in Davis Cup that year.
He is one of the founders of ATP, as a member of the “Handsome Eight” with whom he heralded a new era in early 1968, something that we name today “Open Era”. Other members of that octet were Dennis Ralston, John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Cliff Drysdale, Earl Buchholz, Roger Taylor and Pierre Barthès.
“In my time we played with wooden rackets. When I was born, in 1939, Don Budge still played with a non-leather racket (entirely made of wood). I was watching him many years after (say 1970), when he still played with the same racket. Obviously he hardly changed his habits...”
The feature film “Open Era” juxtaposes the views about tennis half century ago and nowadays, on the crossroads of two eras, through attitudes of important persons from the beginning of the new era and actual ones.
Key figures from Open Era beginning: Nikola Pilic, Cliff Drysdale (“Handsome Eight” member and first President of ATP), Tony Roche (“Handsome Eight” member, 1966 Roland Garros winner), Pierre Barthès (“Handsome Eight” member, 1970 US Open Doubles winner with Nikola Pilic), John Newcombe (“Handsome Eight” member, 7 times Grand Slam Singles winner), Roger Taylor (“Handsome Eight” member), Ilie Nastase (2 times Grand Slam winner, beat Pilic in the 1973 Roland Garros final, one of big players who didn’t boycott 1973 Wimbledon), Stan Smith (defending Wimbledon champion who refused to play in 1973 edition, because of boycott), Jan Kodes and Alex Metreveli (1973 Wimbledon finalists from Eastern Bloc, forced by tennis officials from their countries to play in that tournament).
Key figures nowadays: four players with whom Pilic won Davis Cup – Novak Djokovic (ATP Player Council President), Boris Becker, Michael Stich, Ivan Ljubicic, actual ATP Chairman Chris Kermode, current World No. 1 Andy Murray (ATP Player Council member), the most successful ever tennis player, Roger Federer, former champion, now TV commentator Mats Wilander, some of prominent journalists and writers, including two former players - John Barrett, author of World of Tennis and many other books, and former BBC commentator Mark Cox.
What would tennis be like today if it hadn’t been for the “Handsome Eight”, is he satisfied with today’s image of tennis from the perspective of a man who half a century ago “pulled off a revolution”, what had a decisive influence on the development of tennis at that time, is the rivalry Djokovic – Federer – Nadal – Murray indeed the best that could ever have happened in tennis, how will the ruling “super professionalism” affect tennis, is tennis immune to doping and other challenges – and finally – if he could be 29 once more – what kind of revolution would he bring off in tennis nowadays…