LOS ANGELES, May 26, 2016 – Tennis Channel’s upcoming documentary, Signature Series: Barnstormers, reveals the untold story of a small group of tennis pioneers who spent decades fighting an unjust system to ultimately create the sport’s modern Open Era. The 90-minute film debuts on Thursday afternoon, June 2, at approximately 2 p.m. ET, immediately following the network’s live coverage of the women’s singles semifinals at Roland Garros. Commonly known as the French Open, the tournament ushered in the Open Era in 1968 with its admittance of professionals vs. the majors’ traditional “amateurs only” player fields.
Narrated by renowned actor/director and passionate tennis fan Robert Redford, and written by Sports Illustrated’s award-winning Jon Wertheim, Barnstormers investigates the sport’s evolution from the 1920s until the fight for “open tennis” was won. The documentary, for the first time, brings to light an era when pro players suffered greatly for the game they loved, while so-called amateurs were accepted and supported by institutionalized tennis’ national federations with inside sponsorships and under-the-table payments. For decades the best tennis players in the world faced an excruciating reality: declare yourself a professional and forfeit your eligibility as a contender in the sport’s most hallowed events – for the rest of your life.
Tennis Channel unspools the decades-long story of tennis’ two-class system: a thread that links the pioneering Suzanne Lenglen and Bill Tilden in the 1920s to the rollicking adventures of Hall of Famers like Rod Laver, Bobby Riggs, Pancho Gonzales, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Butch Buchholz, Tony Trabert and the rest of American-icon Jack Kramer’s ragtag bunch of mid-century professionals. Legends now, in their day these were stars who would play wherever they could get a gig – stretching their portable canvas tennis court out in high school gymnasiums, on roof tops and at ice-hockey rinks – while sleeping in cars before heading off overnight to the next town.
The project took three years to make and involved hundreds of hours of archival-footage research and worldwide interviews with almost every living former Barnstormer, some of whom have since passed away, including Hall of Famer player/inovator Mike Davies, to whom the film is dedicated. What emerges is a classic tale of rebels fighting to change a long-established, highly powerful system.
“Tennis Channel’s Barnstormers pulls the curtain back on an era of sports history that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, but was nevertheless vital for the very existence of the professional tennis that fans around the world enjoy today,” said Ken Solomon, president, Tennis Channel. “Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzalez, Rod Laver and many other daring men and women risked so much for the belief that high-quality tennis was a profession in itself that should be appreciated at the sport’s highest levels. Without them there would be no Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Andre Agassi, Serena Williams, Roger Federer or countless other stars who have profited financially and otherwise due to the sacrifice of these visionaries.”
The pantheon of tennis is filled with all-time greats who made the decision to turn professional and sacrifice their ability to compete in the sport’s premier competitions, Althea Gibson, Fred Perry, Gussie Moran, Don Budge and Pauline Betz a handful among them. Historians Richard Evans and Steve Flink contribute to Tennis Channel’s
Barnstormers with on-air appearances by Donald Dell and Roger Federer. The film also includes many of the stars who defined the groundbreaking era, including Kramer, Rosewall, Laver, Trabert, Buchholz, Fred Stolle, Tony Roche, Mal Anderson and Pancho Segura, as well as several “lady Barnstormers” like Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals.