Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic 1978 Lucky Loser — Tale of the Maui Miracle

Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic 1978 Tournament Program Cover

Photo from Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic 1978 Tournament Program Cover

Backstory — Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic

The Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic (aka Hawaii Open), was a $100,000 men’s tournament. Hosted by the Royal Lahaina Tennis Ranch — Kaanapali, Maui — it was part of the Grand Prix circuit from 1974-1984. 

The tournament eventually moved to the Wailea Tennis Club, and then, in 1984, to the Blaisdell Arena, located at the Neil S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. By then, the name had changed to Seiko Super Tennis Hawaii.

I can’t remember how I acquired this tournament program because I never had the opportunity to attend the event. I do remember, though, what happened in 1978 at the Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic. And if you were fortunate enough to be there, I’m sure you know what made this a historic tournament!

Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic 1978 - Stadium Court - Crowd watching a match in session
Stadium Court — Royal Lahaina Tennis Ranch — Kanaapali, Maui — Photo from Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic 1978 Tournament Program

Home of the Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic and More

Back then, the Royal Lahaina Tennis Ranch, located at the Royal Lahaina Resort, was the largest tennis facility in Hawaii. Even today, it has the largest tennis stadium with an approximate capacity of 2,500, plus an additional ten courts. 

Over the years, this facility hosted numerous tennis events – Men’s & Women’s Pro Circuit, Invesco Master Series, and Fed Cup. 

Add to that the music concerts: Fleetwood Mac, Santana, and Five for Fighting, to name a few, and you’ll begin to get a feel for the versatility of this Kaanapali, Maui venue.

The Favorites — 1978 Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic

  • Raul Ramirez – 1st seed and ranked sixth in the world
  • Harold Solomon – 2nd seed and the 1976 Classic winner 
  • Roscoe Tanner – known for his cannonball serve
  • John Newcombe – sentimental favorite and winner of the first Classic
  • John McEnroe – up and coming teenager and the hottest player on the circuit

Lucky Loser

The 32-player main draw featured 23 of the highest ATP ranked players signed up for the tournament. Four qualifiers and five wild card players filled the remaining nine spots. 

Unlike the 1976 event, our hero did not qualify directly into the main draw. He had to win his way in as one of the four qualifiers. 

He was a 21-year old touring pro from Texas, experiencing a dismal year after achieving NCAA singles champion in 1976 as a sophomore. At that time, experts saw him as the future Jimmy Connors. 

His ATP ranking was 101, and he didn’t expect to make a good showing. Still, he planned to make the most of his time in the Maui island paradise. He came for the scenery and beaches and to reconnect with friends he’d made when he played in the 1976 tournament.

He won his first two matches in the qualifying rounds but lost the third to Leo Palin, a Pepperdine Finland exchange student.

With the qualifying rounds over, it was time to move into the main draw, and the big boys were ready to play!

But wait, a surprise announcement, the number 8th seed, Bob Lutz, had to withdraw to play in the Davis Cup semi-final against England. 

Who would replace Lutz? Enter the koa wood bowl holding the names of the losers in the final qualifying matches. They drew one name from the bowl…and the “lucky loser?” Bill Scanlon!

Bill Scanlon on court Bill Scanlon on court at the Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic
Bill Scanlon on court at the Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic — Photo from Guide to Tennis in Hawaii 1979-1980

Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic Journey from Lucky Loser to Maui Miracle

Scanlon was guaranteed $900 if he lost in the first round. 

But he won his first-round match, upsetting Cliff Drysdale 6-4, 7-5, assuring at least $1,700.

In the second round, Scanlon pulled off another surprise by beating Gene Mayer in a squeaker 7-6, 5-7, 6-3. 

This win raised his purse to $2,900 and equaled his best showing of the year. It marked his third quarter-finals tournament.

Next up was Harold Solomon, ranked ten in the world. Scanlon dropped the first set but came back to win the second. At 6-5, he had a match point, but Solomon saved the game, sending the match into sudden death. 

Solomon was up 6-3 in the tiebreaker, but our lucky loser saved three match points, winning five in a row. His purse rose to $5,200 as he enjoyed his first win (in three attempts) against Solomon, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6.

In the first semi-finals, Peter Fleming quickly upset the number one seed, Raul Ramirez. He (and his doubles partner, John McEnroe) both had their eyes on the singles and doubles finals.

But our hero had other ideas. His goal? Make it to his first final of the year and bring home at least $10,000. 

Scanlon continued his onslaught, breaking McEnroe’s 14-match winning streak with his third three-setter win in a row (6-2, 3-6, 6-3).

No matter who won the $20,000 first prize, it would have been a fantastic finish for either of the unseeded finalists. Contrary to expectations, the match was not close. 

Scanlon proved himself the hero of our story to the bitter end. He won the last thirteen points in a row, losing only two points in the final five games. 

Winning, 6-2, 6-0 in only 46 minutes, Scanlon became the youngest champion in the tournament’s history.

Sunday, October 8, 1978 Schedule of Play & Draw Sheet for Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic Tournament
Sunday, October 8, 1978, Schedule of Play & Draw Sheet for Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic Tournament

12 Historic Lucky Loser Tournament Wins

9 in the ATP

Marco Cecchinato was the last to accomplish this feat in the 2018 Hungarian Open.

3 in the WTA

Coco Gauff recently achieved it in the Upper Austria Ladies Linz tournament in 2019 at age 15!

Sources

1978 Island Holidays Pro Tennis Classic Tournament Program — Royal Lahaina Resort

1979-1980 Annual Guide to Tennis in Hawaii

Wikipedia: Hawaii Open

Wikipedia: 1978 Island Holidays Classic

Wikipedia: Lucky Loser

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Albert Murata

You could find Director of Tennis for the Royal Kona Resort Tennis Club, Albert Murata, stringing racquets in the AM Stringing Pro Shop or Pro Circuit events, teaching on the courts, coaching a youth tennis team, or playing league tennis! He has a long history in the tennis community from Kona to Oahu.

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