Serena Williams may ship a thank-you observe to Billie Jean King and eight different gamers who signed $1 contracts to launch a brand new ladies’s professional tennis circuit 50 years in the past.
The daring transfer by King and her friends, often known as the “Unique 9,” led to the profitable prize funds and multimillion-dollar endorsement offers loved by prime ladies at present.
They have been uninterested in second-class remedy at tournaments. They’d been squeezed out of occasions by promoters and have been paid considerably lower than males.
So the Unique 9 broke with the tennis institution and joined promoter Gladys Heldman to type the Virginia Slims circuit. They signed $1 contracts with Heldman on Sept. 23, 1970, regardless of a risk from the U.S. Garden Tennis Affiliation to ban them from Grand Slam tournaments or from representing their nation at worldwide occasions.
“We risked our careers,” King mentioned in an interview with The Related Press. “Even when we didn’t play once more after the event, we didn’t care as a result of one thing needed to be finished.”
Heldman enlisted longtime good friend Joe Cullman, the CEO of tobacco firm Philip Morris, to sponsor the upstart circuit. King and the ladies held up their greenback payments with pleasure and trepidation that day, forward of the inaugural Virginia Slims Invitational in Houston.
The Unique 9 included seven Individuals — Heldman’s daughter, Julie, together with King, Rosie Casals, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey and Valerie Ziegenfuss — and two Australians, Judy Tegart Dalton and Kerry Melville Reid.
Their tenacity and imaginative and prescient led to the creation of the Girls’s Tennis Affiliation in 1973 because the organizing physique for girls’s professional tennis. The WTA Tour now affords 55 occasions in 29 nations and $179 million in complete prize cash.
The WTA and U.S. Tennis Affiliation will rejoice the fiftieth anniversary of the founders’ achievement throughout the U.S. Open. All 4 Grand Slam tournaments now pay ladies the identical prize cash as males after years of advocacy by King for equal pay. The ladies’s and males’s champions at this 12 months’s U.S. Open will every obtain $3 million.
“Typically you want somebody, or a gaggle of ladies, sturdy individuals, to face up,” Williams mentioned Saturday after she received her third-round U.S. Open match. “They have been standing up for the longer term generations, and that takes a number of humility and a number of braveness. I’m tremendously appreciative.”
OPEN AND SHUT
The Open Period started in 1968, permitting all gamers to be paid professionals, and King talked to male gamers about forming a tennis affiliation. Women and men performed collectively on the Grand Slam occasions and another tournaments.
King and her then-husband, Larry, had met whereas taking part in tennis at Cal State Los Angeles in 1963. He grew to become a tennis promoter and noticed a dismal future for girls’s tennis, with extra tournaments, cash and TV publicity for the lads.
“Larry already informed me, when tennis went open, that the lads would attempt to eliminate us,” she mentioned. “I mentioned, ‘No they received’t, they’re my pals.’ He mentioned, ‘Billie, they personal the boys community, it will likely be gone.’”
By 1970, the 26-year-old King realized Larry was proper. The breaking level got here that summer season, when the Pacific Southwest Open in Los Angeles, chaired by former participant and influential promoter Jack Kramer, introduced the lads’s champion would get $12,500 and the ladies’s winner $1,500.
That galvanized the 9 ladies to launch their very own tour. Julie Heldman mentioned the upstart group benefited from the “holy trinity” of tennis — her mom’s connections as writer of World Tennis journal, King’s star energy and the monetary backing of Philip Morris.
“My mom … had an unsurpassed Rolodex, a unprecedented work ethic, and a dedication to the success of the ladies’s professional tour,” Heldman mentioned. “Billie Jean King was the charismatic star in addition to a superb publicist for the tour.”
Heldman mentioned on the eve of the Houston event, Kramer requested the USLTA (now the USTA) to withdraw the affiliation’s approval of the occasion. The gamers have been referred to as and threatened with suspension in the event that they competed.
The subsequent day, Gladys met with the gamers and provided the $1 contracts as safety for them and the occasion.
“Once we held up that $1 invoice, that actually was the beginning of ladies’s professional tennis the way in which we all know it at present,” King mentioned. “We talked concerning the future generations so much in our conferences.”
Casals and Dalton performed within the last of the primary Virginia Slims occasion. The 21-year-old Casals received in three units.
King and Casals performed greater than 200 singles and doubles matches in 1971 to advertise the brand new circuit, together with sponsor pro-ams and youngsters’ clinics. Casals completed her profession with 112 doubles titles, successful half with King.
“It was a full-time job on and off the courtroom,” Casals mentioned. “Each Billie Jean and I have been very aggressive and in addition constructive. We at all times felt we may win.”
King, the winner of 39 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and blended doubles, mentioned the Unique 9 wished a lady wherever on the planet to have the chance to compete, earn recognition for her accomplishments and earn a dwelling taking part in tennis.
Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, who every received 18 Grand Slam singles titles, introduced new ability and star energy to the ladies’s tour and took dwelling $15 million and $8.8 million in profession prize cash, respectively. Evert acquired hundreds of thousands extra in endorsements off the courtroom.
“All these ladies have been manner forward of their time,” Navratilova mentioned. “They took an enormous, enormous probability. Look the way it paid off.”
A 23-time Grand Slam champion in singles, Williams has earned $92 million throughout her profession. The ten highest-paid feminine athletes on the planet in 2019 have been all tennis gamers, in accordance with Forbes.
“The Unique 9’s perception that women and girls all over the place deserve equality of alternative — in tennis and in all walks of life — is the enduring imaginative and prescient that guides WTA gamers,” WTA president Micky Lawler mentioned.
The 76-year-old King want to see extra pay and publicity for girls’s professional soccer, hockey and softball.
“Many ladies’s sports activities are going through the identical challenges we confronted 50 years in the past,” King mentioned. “The underside line is we’d like extra funding in ladies’s sports activities.”
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