Although tennis had been played in the Bahamas for many years, at clubs like the Gym Tennis Club and Nassau Lawn Tennis Club, the Bahamas Lawn Tennis Association was not formally constituted until 1961.
Its formation came out of necessity to allow the Bahamas to compete in international tennis events. Dr. Malcolm Hale was a driving force in the formative stages and was Secretary for many years thereafter. The BLTA originally consisted of three clubs – the Gym, the New Providence Tennis Club and the St. Georges Sporting Club.
Kendal Isaacs was the first President and other board members in the early years were Francis and Paul Adderley, George Carey, Gerald Cash, Basil North, Orville Turnquest and Junior Urich, among others.
National Championships for juniors in 14 & Under and 18 & Under categories as well as Open Men’s and Ladies were first held the following year, in 1962, and have been held annually since then. The junior divisions were expanded subsequently to include 10’s, 12’s and 16’s. The first 18 & Under junior champions of record were Ed Archer and Gail North, in 1962 while Robert Adams won the 14 & Under crown. George Carey and Gerry Vagassky were, respectively, the Men’s and Ladies Open titlists that year.
Leo Rolle and Jodi Saunders hold the singular distinction of being the only two players in Bahamian tennis history to have won National Singles Championships in the Junior and Open divisions in the same year. Leo achieved this milestone in 1966 and Jodi in 1983.
Since those first championships in 1962, the list of notable National Champions has included John Antonas (33 titles); Jane Wiberg (25 titles); John Farrington (20 Open titles); Leo Rolle (17 titles); Kim Cartwright( 16 titles); George Carey (13 titles); Vicky Knowles (13 titles); Barrie Farrington (12 Veterans titles) and Mark Knowles (21 junior titles). (All totals as of Nov/97)
These standouts also represented the Bahamas in the regional championship tournaments and other international events. Leo Rolle was the first Bahamian to play Davis Cup, in 1969, as a member of the Commonwealth Caribbean team. Until 1989, when the Bahamas began competing in the Davis Cup competition as an individual nation, the smaller island states of the Caribbean pooled their resources and entered a combined team. John Antonas and Roger Smith later followed Leo as members of the Commonwealth Caribbean team and Leo served as Captain in 1988.
Bahamian teams competed regularly in the Commonwealth Caribbean Championships (CCLTA), for the Brandon Trophy for men and the Phillips Trophy for women, until 1992. In that year the formation of the Central America and Caribbean Tennis Confederation (COTECC) rendered the CCLTA championships redundant and the event was discontinued.
The BLTA was accepted into the International Tennis Federation as a full member in 1988 and the Bahamas played its first Davis Cup tie under its own flag in Nassau in February, 1989 against Venezuela, with John Antonas as Captain. Since then, Mark Knowles, Roger Smith, John Farrington, Leo Rolle and Sean Cartwright have taken the Bahamas from the lowest level of the Davis Cup structure to being one tie away from the elite World Group. Having earned the right to play the United States in 1993 for a spot in the top sixteen tennis nations of the world in only five years was a remarkable feat.
The BLTA has focused for the last few years on its Junior Development Programme in order to ensure the continuity of our Davis Cup success. We are a nation of overachievers and our future tennis stars are being groomed through the Programme. The BLTA has hosted many international tournaments like the Davis Cup, ITF Futures events, Stevens Cup and regional championships in an effort to provide necessary exposure to our juniors, tennis community and the general public. With the possible exception of track & field, there is no other sport that continuously garners the worldwide attention to the Bahamas that tennis does. The Bahamas Lawn Tennis Association has committed itself to the development of the sport locally and ensuring the widest exposure of our country through its tennis ambassadors.