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Forty years of prosperity of WTA and Billie Jean King

Billie Jean KingThis week marks 40 years since the formation of the WTA, when nine women, led by Billie Jean King, in September 1970 signed $1 contracts and founded the Virginia Slims Circuit, later to become the WTA. The women’s players decided to do something against gender inequality in tennis and prize money offered to female players by the USTA (then called USLTA) and other tournament organizing bodies.

At the time, the new organization of women’s tennis players was labeled as a bunch of "crazies", they were suspended by the USTA and there was even a rival circuit against them.

You have to remember in 71, a lot of people weren't real happy with us when we started.  A lot of players were afraid to join us.  And we had two tours, two circuits, because the USTA started one against us which was very difficult at the time. I wanted everyone to be together.  That was the whole intention when we started. We lost $3000 the first year.  I guess that's where my prize money went.  So I made zero or minus money that year.  But we were very excited and very scared and we weren't sure what was going to happen to us.  But it was the first tournament of the Virginia Slims series in 71. – Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King and Venus WilliamsHowever, the women were willing to risk their careers for the cause of bringing professional tennis closer to people and fighting for the rights of women. It was even more important than winning Grand Slams for them at the time.

The media was being tough, they labeled us as "crazy" because we were women. I used to say "if I were Jimmy Connors doing this you'd just say he's just trying to create opportunities as a business guy." No one ever perceives me as a business person. It's very interesting.  – Billie Jean King

The Virginia Slims Circuit became the WTA in 1973, and its first stop was Stanford where Billie Jean King had a press conference on the topic this year (where the quotes in this article are from). The WTA now has over 2,200 players representing 96 nations competing for over $86 million in prize money at 53 tournaments and four Grand Slams in 33 countries. (source: Forty Deuce, photos: wchuang, Sony Ericsson WTA Tour)

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7 thoughts on “Forty years of prosperity of WTA and Billie Jean King

  1. marine

    Amazing! I did not know how WTA was established. They really had to have a lot of courage to go for it at that mysoginist times. Hats off :-)

  2. el

    Happy 40 years to the WTA. It is too bad that not everyone who loves tennis is aware of this history.

    A 2008 Playboy interview given by Janko Tipsarevic disparages women tennis. I am not aware if he has since apologized for this outburst:

    “99% of male tennis players can’t stand women’s tennis. There’s no other sport with such a big disparity concerning level of play and the money women make. A friend of mine says that a woman who wins a Slam should only earn enough money to pay for her airplane ticket home. Who knows what else I would say if it wasn’t for Ana and Jelena whom I may consider friends. But of course, I appreciate the effort they’re putting into tennis, because I know they practise as hard as I do. […] The way women think on court cannot be compared to men. Their only strategy is ‘hit the ball where your opponent isn’t.’ Nothing more! No ‘Put more spin on the ball, this is an important point, play to her backhand’. No way! […] It’s that such kind of tennis works today. Look at the Williams sisters, Sharapova or Ivanovic who hits the ball like a truck on steroids.

    I get a bit critical when I see how much the women earn and how their opening rounds go. That’s what irritates me the most, I feel like going to WTA HQ and *something* all of them. Look at Federer who is so dominant, he has to work so hard to beat a Staracce or an Almagro, he may even lose a set and then look at Sharapova or Ivanovic who lose 3 games in the first 4 rounds. It makes me sick”.

  3. Marija

    El, thanks for sharing this. I can understand Janko's point of view, but the way he described it and his stance are too harsh and it's even more ironic when you see how the WTA was founded.

  4. el

    Marija: Janko's recent success made me want to know more about him. On another women orientated site commentators labeled him a misogynist. I was surprised b/c I think he is very likeable.

    As of 09.20 Janko is #58 on the ATP money list having earned $407,595 w/1195 (#34) ranking pts. Julia Goerges #58 WTA earned $299,346 w/1261 (#42)ranking pts. Total comparison is impossible w/o documenting the level of tennis tournaments entered by both.

    My thoughts: The WTA to play best of 5 sets in major tournaments and possibly 5 sets for finals only in Tiers I/II tournaments.

  5. Marija Post author

    El, impressive analysis. :) I used to think it would be ok for women to play best of 5 sets at selected tournaments or matches, but I got reassured. And see how many injuries there are now, and how exhausted the players are, the best of 5 sets would only be another burden that I don't think would actually contribute to the popularity of women's tennis. As for Janko, I suppose he would find something to complain about anyway. He is handsome nevertheless.

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