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How Women’s Tennis Association Was Founded

Strong women are beautiful and they have the indefatigable pioneer Billie Jean King to thank for as she ushered women’s tennis to what we know of it today. King was one of the world’s #1 tennis players. She had won 39 Grand Slam tennis titles, had been honoured in the International Tennis Hall and was recognised and named by various sectors in the field of sports. She is tough, aggressive and a perfectionist but most importantly, she is a firm advocate of sexual equality, a sturdy woman who held vivid visions for women’s tennis. This led to the birth of Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

The Founding of WTA

Tennis was already a sophisticated sport as early as 1968 and it was also an era where gender inequality can much be seen. The standards created a huge gap between men’s and women’s tennis. It was so conspicuous that it hindered the growth of the latter. Despite the differences, Billie Jean King played in the first Open Wimbledon. During that time, men tennis players were favoured highly as evident in the prize fund ratio of 2.5:1.  This goes to say that even if women tennis players bagged the title, she would still receive less prize money compared to her men counterpart.

In the early years, Billie Jean King was joined by other professional women tennis players named Kerry Melville, Rosie Casals, Peaches Bartkowicz, Julie Heldman, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Kristy Pigeon and Judy Dalton, together they were called The Original 9 and have played at Wimbledon and US Open as some other tennis circuits that time were slaves of 1970s standards which only accepted men players. For two consecutive years during 1968 and 1969, King and Casals were refused of rankings by the USTLA while women in general were not allowed to participate in Wightman Cup.

By year 1970, King made a brave statement about the severity of sexual inequality crawling in the field of tennis. Promoters of the game and men tennis players were earning more money compared to women tennis players. She cited a relatively huge disparity which was clearly traced from 8:1 earnings ratio and it had even ballooned into a nightmarish figure of 12:1 during the Pacific Southwest Championship. This triggered women players to act against the blatant pay inequality. They called World Tennis Magazine Publisher, Gladys Heldman who then established the 1970 Houston Women’s Invitation. This later on paved way for the organisation of Virginia Slims Circuit. The nine tennis renegades signed a $1 contract with Heldman and others including Philip Morris’ Joe Cullman.

The Virginia Slims Circuit became the biggest groundbreaker that shed light to the future of women’s tennis. Days before the 87tth staging of the 1973 Wimbledon Champions, King organised a meeting in London’s Gloucester Hotel and founded the Women’s Tennis Association. The 1973 Wimbledon Tennis Tour kicked off from 25th of June and ended on 8th of July. WTA drew in more sponsorships and has been counting grand slam awards ever since.

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