The need to establish a world governing body for tennis became obvious in 1911. By that time lawn tennis was beginning to develop rapidly worldwide and it seemed natural that National Associations already established should come together to form a liaison whereby the universal game would be uniformly structured.
Credit for this concept is given to Duane Williams, who sadly died on board Titanic before seeing his idea come to fruition, Charles Barde and Henry Wallet. Representatives from 12 National Associations attended a General Conference in Paris on 1 March 1913 at which the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) was founded. A further three members were not present but had asked to join.
The 15 inaugural members were:
- Australasia (Australia and New Zealand)
- Great Britain
- South Africa
The first edicts of the meeting were:
- International Lawn Tennis Agreement (Constitution) drawn up with 13 paragraphs dealing predominantly with amateurism
- Official language would be French with English translation
- Administration of the Federation was to be run from Paris
- Great Britain had the right to stage ‘the World Championships on Grass – in perpetuity’
- The Davis Cup should be the sole international team contest of the world
- President: Dr H.O. Behrens
- Joint secretaries: Mr H.A. Sabelli and Mr R. Gallay
The International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) was founded on 1 March at the first General Conference in Paris, when 15 nations became the inaugural members.
Of the nations allotted voting shares of the ILTF, three nations, Norway, Canada and USA decided not to accept membership at that time and prior to the 1914 meeting declared that they would not take up the votes.
After the interruption of World War I, which broke out in 1914, the ILTF continued its work, although there were only 10 member nations retained after the war.
The International Rules Board was appointed by the Advisory Committee (Committee of Management) to overcome the problem of recognising the ILTF had the exclusive right to alter and control the rules of the game.
At the Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 16 March in Paris, the official ILTF ‘Rules of Tennis’ were adopted with public effect from 1 January 1924. USA became an affiliated member of the ILTF. The title World Championship was also dropped at this meeting but a new category of Official Championship was created for events in Great Britain, France, USA and Australia – today’s Grand Slam events.
The ILTF became the officially recognised organisation with authority to control lawn tennis throughout the world.
The Committee of Management took over from the Advisory Committee as the elected governing head of the ILTF.
A specially convened committee was set up to discuss the differences between professionals and amateurs, and the ability for amateurs to claim expenses over eight weeks of the year. The regulations governing amateurism had been defined at the Annual General Meeting of the ILTF in 1920.
The total number of affiliated nations had risen to 59. During World War II, because of the devaluation of the French Franc and the imminent invasion of Switzerland, the funds of the ILTF were transferred to Great Britain. From that time onwards the ILTF has been run from London.
The first post-war meeting was held in London at the Savoy hotel on 5 July. In total, 23 nations were represented with various nations being expelled from the ILTF in the aftermath of the war. Over the years, the nations were reinstated but others came and went with the rise and fall of other global political issues.
The International Ball Committee was set up to enquire into the standardisation of tennis balls throughout the world. It was the Committee’s recommendation that “the ILTF should endeavour to procure an apparatus designed and constructed which will enable balls to be readily and accurately tested at speeds at which the game is played."
The eight-week rule (permitting an amateur to claim expenses for up to eight-weeks of the year) was relaxed to 210 days, allowing amateurs to claim expenses for competing in tournaments. By 1958, the ILTF was concerned that this relaxation of the rules was “encouraging players to concentrate on the game of tennis to the exclusion of all gainful occupation."
The ILTF celebrated its 50th anniversary by launching the Federation Cup, an international women's team competition designed to match the men's equivalent, Davis Cup, which had been in existence since 1900, but not under the auspices of the ILTF.
After ten years of division and struggle within the ILTF an emergency meeting was called in Paris on 30 March, when 47 nations agreed in principle to the issue of "Open" tennis. A breakaway tennis circuit was organised called World Championship Tennis (WCT), running in opposition to the official ILTF circuit. The ILTF received sponsorship to organise Grand Prix tournaments allowing players to compete openly and legally for money.
The first change in scoring came when an experiment was authorised to test the tiebreak. By 1974, the tiebreak had been sanctioned as a permitted alternative to the scoring system, then at the AGM in 1988 it was decided the tiebreak system should be adopted for Davis Cup matches from 1989 onwards.
The ILTF decreed at the AGM in Italy that no player contracted to play WCT could play in any event authorised by a National Association. This meant that John Newcombe could not defend his Wimbledon title that year. In March 1972, the WCT and ILTF finally joined forces to promote a unified circuit for the benefit of all players.
The Virginia Slims Tour was organised, providing a women-only circuit. This also caused confrontation between the Tour, the National Associations and the ILTF. However in 1973, after much discussion, peace was declared and the Virginia Slims Tour was ratified.
As television coverage of tennis events grew, the use of yellow balls was allowed after a two year experimental period - white balls were the requirement up until this time.
There was a dispute between the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the ILTF because of the nine-month suspension imposed on Yugoslavian Nikki Pilic over his non-appearance for his country in their Davis Cup match against New Zealand. The penalty was reduced to one-month following an emergency meeting but the ATP announced that their members would boycott Wimbledon to show their strength. Eighty players withdrew from the 1973 Wimbledon Championships.
The Grand Prix Committee was formed, which became the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council (MIPTC) in 1975, providing a democratic governing body for men’s professional tennis. This organisation consisted of nine members with three elected to the Council from each of the main sections of the game, the ILTF, the players and the tournaments.
The Women’s International Professional Tennis Council (WIPTC) was formed and operated under a joint secretariat shared between the ILTF and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). It also had representatives from the tournaments and sponsors. The purpose of the Council was to promote, control and govern the organisation and development of the women’s professional circuit throughout the world.
The Code of Conduct was introduced as a method for controlling bad behaviour in the men’s game.
A sad moment in some people’s minds: 100 years after the start of the Wimbledon Championships the ILTF had a change of title, dropping the word “lawn” and becoming the International Tennis Federation (ITF). The ITF also started to monitor new concepts in stringing after complaints about a double-strung racket began to emerge.
The first ITF World Champions were announced, Chris Evert and Bjorn Borg. They were chosen by two separate panels of former players.
Davis Cup nations asked the ITF to assume responsibility for the Davis Cup competition, to organise and run the event. Davis Cup had been in existence since 1900 but was not controlled by the ILTF, but rather by a Committee of Davis Cup nations.
Brad Parks and David Saltz founded the National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis. In 1980, a circuit of ten tournaments was set up in USA, which included the first US Open Championships, and then the following year the Wheelchair Tennis Players Association (WTPA) was formed to represent the players.
NEC became the title sponsor of Davis Cup, enabling prize money to be given and coinciding with a 16-strong World Group being established. NEC also became the sponsor of the Federation Cup, until 1994.
The ITF moved from Wimbledon to Barons Court, west London, nearby to Queen's Club.
Tennis returned to the Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea as a full medal sport after an absence of 64 years, in the year of the ITF's 75th anniversary and after diligent work by ITF President Philippe Chatrier and General Secretary David Gray.
The ITF adopted the two-bounce rule in the official Rules of Tennis for wheelchair players, thereby sanctioning the sport.
Federation Cup rebranded as Fed Cup, and then the home-and-away format was introduced the following year.
The ITF moved to its current premises at the Bank of England Sports Ground in Roehampton, south-west London.
Davis Cup celebrated its 100th anniversary.
A record 142 nations entered Davis Cup
BNP Paribas took over as Davis Cup's title sponsor, a year after it first linked up with the competition as an Official Partner.
BNP Paribas increased its partnership with the ITF by also becoming the title sponsor of Fed Cup.
After three years of research by the ITF, electronic line-calling made its official debut at the Hopman Cup in Perth.
The ITF launched its Tennis Play & Stay campaign, a recruitment and retention programme for start-up players, and also Tennis iCoach, an online resource for tennis coaches worldwide. The Tennis Anti-Doping Programme became exclusively managed by the ITF.
The ITF established an official Beach Tennis Tour consisting of 14 tournaments, which in four years grew to over 100.
Players competing in Davis Cup's World Group and World Group play-offs began earning ATP ranking points, marking the first time that they could improve their individual ranking when representing their nation in Davis Cup.
The ITF/ATP/WTA/Grand Slam Committee adopted the new Tennis Anti-Corruption Programme, operated by the Tennis Integrity Unit, to monitor any potential match-fixing in tennis.
The ITF’s flagship competition reached its milestone when Prague played host to the 100th Davis Cup Final in which Czech Republic defeated Spain.
210 member nations came together to celebrate 100 years of the ITF. Fed Cup celebrated 50 years of competition. The ITF launched World Tennis Day on 4 March in partnership with sports promoter StarGames.