From top player to tour pioneer
Bunis started circuit for seniors

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The office behind Al Bunis' Indian Hill home is filled with posters for Grand Masters tennis tournaments all over the world and photos from those events.

        Indonesia. Hong Kong. The Philippines. Saudi Arabia. The Netherlands.

        Bunis, 75, could be called the father of senior sporting events, and Cincinnati could be called the birthplace.

Framed posters in Al Bunis' Indian Hill office promote Grand Master tennis tournaments. Bunis started tennis' first senior tour.
(File photo)
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        In the 1940s and '50s, Alvin Bunis was considered one of the best players in the area and has been devoted to the sport since he was a teen-ager.

        He was nationally ranked as a junior player. In 1943, he and Bill Talbert -- the second-best player ever to come out of Cincinnati -- won the Tri-State Tennis Tournament doubles title, and Bunis won the city championship in 1952.

        By the 1970s, Bunis was considered a world-wide expert on senior tennis. He knew who the top players were and where they lived. He wrote a monthly column for Tennis magazine devoted to senior tennis, where he ranked the players. He also wrote for The Enquirer and The Post.

        Then he came up with an idea.

        "One day I was saying to myself, what if we could get these great older players to come to play for prize money? I speculated about it in my own mind, then I said why don't I try to put together a little tournament and see if anybody is interested," Bunis said.

        In November 1972, the first senior event in any sport was held at the Queen City Racquet Club. Bunis invited the best players he thought would come, including Bobby Riggs and Frank Parker, who played in the final (Parker won).

        "There were big crowds,' Bunis said. "It was a Sunday in November and the Bengals played at 1 p.m. We played at 10 a.m., and the place was filled.

Bud Collins, Boston Globe columnist and tennis historian, has roots in Cincinnati. His mother grew up in Walnut Hills, and two aunts and his grandfather, a French immigrant who became a lawyer, also lived in Cincinnati.
        "Then I'm saying to myself, maybe there's something here."

        Bunis got a call from a man in Milwaukee who wanted to bring a seniors event to his city. In June 1973, Bunis announced the formation of a senior circuit. The next month, the first Grand Masters tennis event was held at a club in Milwaukee.

        "It really took off from there," Bunis said. "People wanted us everywhere."

        Bunis ran the Grand Masters from 1973-81, then he sold the corporation to Mark McCormack at IMG while remaining a consultant until '88. The series lost its sponsor in 1989.

        Golf, of course, would follow suit -- years after Bunis tried to get the sport to begin a senior tour.

        "It's been a fun life," Bunis said. "Nothing can compare with the 20, 25 years I roamed the world with these friends."




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