Sunday, September 20, 2020

Honoring the Original Nine of Women's Tennis

I don't know about you, but I have been absolutely loving the Tennis Channel's 11-part series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the "Original Nine," who first signed $1 pro contracts with Gladys Heldman to start a more equitable professional women's tennis circuit. While the videos aren’t all in one place to watch — way to go, Marketing Department! — if you dig around a bit you can find them on YouTube, Facebook and I've heard the story dozens of times before -- the film "Battle of the Sexes" did an incredible job of depicting the earliest days -- yet I still get goosebumps each time I watch this historic moment unfold, which was truly about so much more than women’s sports. 

When it started to begin ...

1970 Houston Women's Invitational: I think most hardcore women's tennis fans know that the first Virginia Slims event was in Houston and that it was won by Rosie Casals. But who remembers that an injured Billie Jean King lost to Aussie Judy Dalton (the eventual runner-up who used the biggest check of her career to help pay off a new house in Melbourne)? That Julie Heldman was injured so wasn't able to compete, despite being an Original Niner? That Margaret Court -- who won the Grand Slam that year -- was scheduled to play but withdrew with injury, perhaps mental after losing to 15-year-old Chris Evert the week before in Charlotte, N.C? (Kristy Pigeon replaced her.) Or that there was a third-place playoff? 

The tributes got me thinking about my earliest days of fandom: Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Kerry Melville Reid and Valerie Ziegenfuss were still active on the tour when I got into the game in 1977, but Peaches Bartkowicz, Judy Tegart Dalton, Julie Heldman (Gladys's daughter), Kristy Pigeon and Nancy Richey were names I mostly only read about. When I look back, this illustration best sums up my "Original 6": Tracy Austin, Martina Navratilova, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Wendy Turnbull, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, all of whom took the game to the "next level." 

As Billie Jean King said, “Without Gladys Heldman, there wouldn't be women's professional tennis. She was a passionate advocate for women tennis players and, as the driving force behind the start of the Virginia Slims Tour in 1970, she helped change the face of women's sports." Watch HERE.


Val Ziegenfuss's clip was especially interesting to me.


 Would you believe I still haven't read Julie's Tennis Mommie Dearest?


 Michiganders will notice that Peaches Bartkowicz is the most "Hamtramck" person ever!

The USTA also has in-depth interviews and videos. See all nine HERE.

Read all Original Nine posts HERE.

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