Before I talk about what the WTA means for me, how many players can you name in the photo above? One hint, most are former number 1s in singles except for two of them. Another is the current WTA CEO. Other than those three, the rest are WTA 1s. There are some 1s missing in this photo, including Steffi Graf, Kim Clijsters, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka. Vika and Venus are injured. Kim is pregnant back home. OK, here are the ladies: (L-R back row) Mary Carillo, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, Ana Ivanovic, Lindsay Davenport, Chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association Stacey Allaster, Dinara Safina, Jelena Jankovic, Jennifer Capriati, Caroline Wozniacki, Amelie Mauresmo and Pam Shriver. (L-R front row) Tracey Austin, Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova, Billie Jean King, Serena Williams, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Justine Henin.
I have been a tennis fan for almost as long as I remember. I had a godmother who played tennis. She took me out to play when I was 5 or 6 years old. Afterwards, I would watch tennis whenever it was on television. My favorite player was Ivan Lendl, but I also liked to watch Chris Evert, Tracy Austin and Martina Navratilova. My first favorite women’s player was Hana Mandlikova. Later, I would become a huge Monica Seles fan, maybe my favorite athlete of all time, male or female. The important thing was that being a fan of the players on the WTA tour, who were real stars in the sporting world, made me look at female athletes with the same respect as their male counterparts. In a way, my fandom of the LPGA didn’t really start with Jenny Chuasiriporn and Se Ri Pak at golf’s US Women’s Open in 1998. It started with Chrissie, Martina, Tracy, Hana and many others in the late 70s and early 80s. The WTA hardwired how I look at women athletes.
In the beginning, Billie Jean King didn’t want a separate women’s association. She wanted the men and women to be together under one association. The men rejected them. The Original 9, along with the help of Gladys Heldman and Joe Cullman of Philip Morris, had formed the Virginia Slim Circuit in 1970, the precursor to the WTA. Things had reached rock bottom when in 1970 the Pacific Southwest Championships had a whopping 12:1 ratio in men’s pay vs women’s pay. Whether or not you think women’s tennis players deserve equal prizemoney (obviously, I do), I would have to think most rational people would recgonize 12:1 was horribly skewed. Eventually, at a meeting a week before Wimbledon 1973 called by Billie Jean King, the WTA was formed. By 1975, the WTA had signed a television deal with CBS. That was the first television contract in WTA history and the added exposure would attract more lucrative sponsorships. Women’s tennis has always had great players, from Suzanne Lenglen to Margaret Court. What the women who started the WTA hoped for was not only respect, but greater monetary compensation that eluded the top players no matter their name recognition. Mission accomplished. From humble beginnings in 1973, the stars of the WTA today dominate the top 10 of best paid female athletes (prizemoney and endorsements) year after year, with top earner Maria Sharapova said to make north of 25 million dollars per year. They’ve come a long way, baby!
NOTE: In the first video to follow, forward to the 24 minute mark to start the interviews. The first part of the video is just a placeholder wallpaper.
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