Virginia Slims Circuit

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The Virginia Slims Circuit[1] is the name of a tennis tour consisting of a group of originally nine female professional players. Formed in 1970, the Virginia Slims Circuit eventually became the basis for the later named WTA Tour. The players, dubbed the Original 9, rebelled against the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) due to the wide inequality between the amount of prize money paid to male tennis players and to female tennis players.[2]

Background[edit]

After the International Lawn Tennis Federation approved open tournaments in 1968, male and female tennis players were treated very differently in terms of the prize money they received. At the first Open Era tennis tournament, the 1968 British Hardcourt Championships held in Bournemouth, men's singles champion Ken Rosewall earned US$2,400 while the most successful professional woman received only $720 (the champion that year, Virginia Wade, was an amateur at the time of the tournament and could only accept $120 in expenses). The situation was very similar at the Grand Slam tournaments. For example at the 1968 Wimbledon Championships, the second Grand Slam event of the open era, Rod Laver, the men's singles champion, received US$4,800 for winning while Billie Jean King, the women's singles champion, received just US$1,800.

The situation came to a head in 1970, when most tournaments offered four times as much prize money to men than they did to women. At the 1970 Italian Open, men's singles champion Ilie Năstase was paid US$3,500 while women's singles champion King received just US$600. On top of this, the USLTA failed to organise any tournaments for women in 1970.

The campaign[edit]

King and eight other female tennis players - Americans Rosemary Casals, Nancy Richey, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss, and Julie Heldman and Australians Kerry Melville Reid and Judy Tegart Dalton - decided to enlist World Tennis magazine publisher Gladys Heldman to help negotiate for greater equality in prize money and provide valuable public relations assistance. All the players were putting their tennis careers at risk because the influential USLTA did not back them.

Gladys Heldman and the "Original 9" decided to target the Pacific Southwest Championships held in Los Angeles on the grounds that it paid eight times more money to men than it did to women. Heldman attempted to get the tournament chairman, former professional tennis player Jack Kramer, to reduce the inequality between the prize money purses for men and women. Kramer refused, leading the "Original 9" to declare at a press conference held at Forest Hills, Boston[clarification needed] that they would boycott the Pacific Southwest Championships and play at what would become the first Virginia Slims Circuit event, a US$7,500 tournament held in Houston, Texas in September 1970.[3] Despite the USLTA's declaration that it would not sanction this event, the "Original 9" went ahead, with Casals defeating Dalton in the final 5–7, 6–1, 7–5.

The formation[edit]

Heldman, with the assistance of Joe Cullman of Philip Morris, then offered US$5,000 out of her own pocket to allow the "Original 9" to sign token $1 contracts and set up their own tour of eight professional tournaments in 1970.[4] The tour was sponsored by Virginia Slims. This independent women's professional tennis circuit provided more equal[clarification needed] prize money than had been provided previously by the USLTA and other organisations.[5] Despite the USLTA's suspension of the "Original 9" from its tournaments, by the end of the year the Virginia Slims Circuit was able to boost its numbers from nine to forty members, which helped pave the way for the first full year season of the Circuit in 1971. Subsequently, in the aftermath of the creation of the Women's Tennis Association in 1973, the Virginia Slims Circuit would eventually absorb the ILTF's Women's Grand Prix circuit and become the WTA Tour.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

General
  • Bodo, Peter. The Courts of Babylon. pp. 128–29.  ([1])
  • Collins, Bud. The Bud Collins History of Tennis. pp. 154–55. 
Specific
  1. ^ "Tour honoured by women's sports foundation". Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. 14 October 2008. Retrieved 10 May 2009. 
  2. ^ "King, original 9 reunite to honor women’s tennis". Retrieved April 7, 2012. 
  3. ^ "The tour story - One of the greatest stories in sport". Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Retrieved 9 May 2009. [dead link]
  4. ^ Vergara, Paula. "A league of their own: The historical grassroots of the WTA Tour". On the Baseline. Retrieved 10 May 2009. 
  5. ^ Roberts, Selena (21 August 2005). "Tennis' other 'Battle of the Sexes', before King-Riggs". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 May 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

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