The former world number one Caroline Wozniacki put it best: “Because of the way they fought, my generation is now living the dream.”
One of the many players who paid tribute to the community of women now known as the “Original 9” was the recently retired tennis player to mark the 50th anniversary of their pioneering action that forever changed tennis and women’s sports.
These women, led by Billie Jean King’s legend of the game, risked their futures in the hope of making things better in the future for women tennis players. And it’s been working.
Tennis is now generally acknowledged as the most gender-equal sport, and female stars of the game earn multi-million dollars and become global superstars.
But Serena Williams, Noami Osaka, Maria Sharapova and Co. could never have reached the heights they have attained in recent years without the Original 9.
Back in 1970, tennis for men was booming. The game was dominated by Rod Laver and the Men’s Tour gave the winners of its events tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, the women who played in a variety of tournaments alongside their male counterparts and the Grand Slams won just a pittance and received match coverage.
King and eight of her female colleagues agreed in the summer of 1970 that they no longer wanted to sit back and be second-class citizens; they wanted something to do about it.
King and her eight fellow women revealed on September 23, 1970, that they would team up with World Tennis magazine’s influential publisher, Gladys Heldman, to launch their own tour, signing contracts for as little as one dollar. This was amid U.S. attacks. In order to bar them from Grand Slam tournaments or represent their country in international competitions, the Lawn Tennis Association
It was a colossal gamble, but they had to take one, King said, even though it meant for them the end of tennis.
The 12-time Grand Slam winner in singles said, “We risked our careers,”
“Even if we weren’t going to play after this (first) tournament, we didn’t care because something had to be done.”
In many ways, it was revolutionary for these women’s tenacity and resolve not to settle for less, not to allow themselves and those who would follow them to be regarded as laggards, even insignificant.
Three years later, their decision led to the founding of the Women’s Tennis Association as an entity for professional women’s tennis, and women’s tennis has never looked back from that point on.
The WTA Tour currently features 55 events in 29 nations, $179 million in total prize money, and women now pay the same prize money as men at all four Grand Slam tournaments. The winners of their last U.S. Open Earned $3 million each.
What lessons should be learned from the Original 9 is not difficult to see. It was difficult to know at the moment, 50 years ago, whether their step away from men would be seen in retrospect as progressive or stupid. If it would be pointless or change the sport forever, there was no way to tell.
“Sometimes you need someone or a group of women, strong people, to stand up. They stood up for future generations, and that takes a lot of humility and a lot of courage. I’m very grateful to them.”Sometimes you need to stand up to someone or a group of women, strong people. They stood up for generations to come, and that takes a lot of humility and a lot of courage. I’m very grateful to them.
The influence they would have on the sport could not have been predicted by King and her fellow Original 9 women. But if there ever had to be an example of how wonderful it is when a woman or a woman is willing to put their necks on the line, their acts, and the repercussions that follow, that’s it.
Although 50 years is a long time in an athlete’s life, it is a relatively short time in which such upheaval can take place.
And it is this example that should draw inspiration from all female athletes.
In almost all regions, women’s sports in general still lag behind men’s sports. In fact, Covid’s influence seems to have harmed women’s sports more than men’s, and it may take some time for him to return to the steadily growing popularity he enjoyed before the pandemic.
Yet the acts of the Original 9 indicate that reform can be forced, but many are unwilling to consider it. That is why women’s football must continue to help women’s soccer.