Tennis Hall of Fame honors its pioneers, including Original 9 women
Posted On July 21, 2021
NEWPORT – Forty-four players on the WTA Tour won at least $ 1 million in 2019, and they owe this current financial reality to a group of women who have promised to play for $ 1 each.
It’s Original 9, the headliners at this weekend’s International Tennis Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Billie Jean King needed allies while leading the pursuit of equal price in women’s tennis, and she found them among the ranks of players in what was previously known as the United States Lawn Tennis Association.
Conchita Martinez, Goran Ivanisevic and the late Dennis Van Der Meer completed the last two dedicated classes here on Bellevue Avenue. The courts were open for live tennis, tours and evening dedication ceremonies.
“We’re so connected,” King said. “Everyone has contributed so much in different ways. Each of us was a commitment – a total commitment. ”
Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Julie Heldman, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey and Valerie Ziegenfuss joined King on stage in an afternoon press conference ahead of the more formal events of the evening. The jokes between them were light and familiar, the type of which perhaps can only be shared by those who sacrificed themselves together. Judy Tegart Dalton and Kerry Melville Reid were inducted in absentia, remaining in their native Australia.
“We were in the trenches together,” Heldman said. “No one in the tennis world has said, ‘Please do well.’ There, we fought from start to finish. ”
King was a transcendent star in the sport by the time the Southwest Pacific Championships arrived in the late 1970s. Cash prizes for men were eight times those available for women. Nine players staged a public boycott of the Los Angeles event and held their own tournament in Houston.
The Original 9 received two major forms of support – a corporate push from Virginia Slims and a media boost from World Tennis magazine. Cigarette makers had recently been banned from television advertising and needed a new vehicle to improve their brands. Heldman’s mother Gladys was the editor of the magazine and was ready to provide a platform for players looking for a change.
“History was on our side,” Casals said. “I think we’ve made a lot of things happen. We had a lot of foresight. ”
The tour played its first full program in 1971 with a total prize pool just north of $ 309,000. King’s goal was to break himself down into six figures and get the sports world as a whole to sit up and take notice. She’s made over $ 116,000 this season, improving the salaries of Major League Baseball’s most valuable players, Vida Blue and Joe Torre.
“I knew if I could win $ 100,000 the media would follow,” King said. “The public might start to take an interest in our story and all of us. And I said, ‘I’m going to kill myself next year.’ ”
Title IX followed in 1972 with a federal mandate that demanded equal educational and scholarship opportunities for male and female students. King noted Team America’s success at the Summer Olympics a generation later in Atlanta, as the Americans won women’s team gold in gymnastics, softball, football, basketball and synchronized swimming in 1996. The Virginia Slims Circuit is now the Women’s Tennis Association. Ash Barty, the current world number. 1, won $ 11.3 million in cash prizes in the final full season of 2019.
“The game makes you very independent,” Ziegenfuss said. “I’m not afraid to ask for a raise because I have a spine. I am an independent woman. And that’s because of this game. ”
Martinez has won nearly 50 career titles, including the 1994 singles crown at Wimbledon. The former world number 2 denied Martina Navratilova what would have been a 10th center court singles championship and made history by becoming the first Spaniard to win at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club. Martinez is now coaching her country’s second woman to win Wimbledon, while Garbine Muguruza followed a defeat in the final in 2015 with a victory in 2017.
“I had my doubts,” Martinez said of his induction. “I was nominated many years ago. The years have passed. And finally, here I am. ”
Ivanisevic also reached his career peak at Wimbledon, winning his fourth final in 2001. His three losses were against two great Americans, Ivanisevic having fallen to Andre Agassi in 1992 and Pete Sampras in 1994 and 1998. Ivanisevic had sunk from No. . . 2 to No. 125 in the world and secured a wildcard entry before outliving Patrick Rafter in a five-set classic.
“It was worth the wait and not give up,” said Ivanisevic. “It’s easy to give up. I fought. I believed it. And I came back at the end.”
Van Der Meer was a teacher for over 65 years before his death in 2019. The South African native went on to coach King and Margaret Court, among others. Van Der Meer was King’s right hand in her famous Battle of the Sexes match with Bobby Riggs in 1973, which she won in straight sets at the Houston Astrodome.