The Women’s Tennis Association is 40 years old now. Tennis is possibly the most famous women’s sport on the planet, having almost equal, if not more, importance than men’s tennis. However, the history of WTA will tell you a different story.
The growth of women’s tennis has almost been a fairy tale. Now, let us take a look at the top 10 moments that redefined women’s tennis.
# 1 – 1973 – Billie Jean King initiates the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA)
The Open Era officially began in 1968 and everyone associated with tennis, the Men’s players, the organizers, the sponsors and the media people were making money, except the women. In the early 1970s, the difference in the prize money for men’s and women’s tournaments was at a 12:1 ratio. Women’s tournaments were getting dropped everywhere.
Fed up with the double standards prevailing in the world of tennis, Billie Jean King meets with few other people in Gloucester Hotel in London to initiate the Women’s Tennis Association, just weeks before the 1973 Wimbledon Championships.
# 2 – 1973 – The Battle of the Sexes – Billie Jean King vs Bobby Riggs
Bobby Riggs is easily the most hated person in tennis. In 1973, he was 55 and still claimed that he is better than most women’s tennis players. He wanted money and fame. Riggs first played against Margaret Court and easily won the match using his lobs and drops.
Now, Bobby wanted to take on Billie Jean King. The match was a best-of-five-set event and King was prepared. Rather than attacking the nets like she usually does, she stayed back and fended off Riggs’ lobs and drop shots. She made Riggs run all over the park and won, emphatically, with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 scoreline.
The match was a symbolic victory for women’s tennis. It changed the perspective with which people viewed the game.
# 3 – 1975 – The sponsorships and global recognition
In 1975, WTA signed its first television contact with CBS, which meant that the women’s tennis matches would be shown on Television to the masses. It provided some much needed recognition to the game.
Then, later in the very same year, WTA signed a contract with Colgate, enabling them to become the sponsors of WTA.
# 4 – 1979, the first ever $100,000 prize money WTA Tournament
Avon Products, a beauty and personal care product manufacturer, became the official sponsor of WTA and offered $100,000 prize money for the Avon Championships (which is now known as the year end WTA Tour Championships). Even at that time, the amount was very small when compared to what the men earned. But, it symbolized that the women’s sport was growing.
Slowly, the prize money, the TV coverage and global audience began increasing.
# 5 – 1980 – $7.2 Million Annual prize money for WTA events
By 1980, around 250 women were playing professional tennis. More than 45 events were taking place for women. The annual prize money of all these events combined accounted to $7.2 Million.
This amount of financial backing made groundbreaking changes, not only in women’s tennis but in all other women’s sports. People were beginning to recognize women’s sports. Soccer, Basketball and other sports began pushing for exclusive women’s leagues.
# 6 – 1982 – Martina Navratilova wins $ 1 Million prize money in a single year
$ 1 Million prize money in a single calender year was a big deal. Two years later, Navratilova doubled her earnings. In 1997, Martina Hingis crossed the $ 3 Million mark and now, last year, Victoria Azarenka had earned more than $ 7 million US dollars in prize money in a single year.
Combined with all other earnings, Maria Sharapova makes around $28 million in a single year now. It all began with that first mark by Navratilova in 1982.
# 7 – 1983 – The Virginia Slims World Championship Series
By 1980, two women’s series were taking place – the Toyota Series, which included matches from all around the world and the Avon Championships, that were solely played on the United States. But, these tournaments were not surviving. Both Toyota and Avon wanted to pull off their sponsorship deals and this created a lot of drama.
But, Virginia Slims, a cigarette manufacturer, returned to the scene and took control over the WTA events. They merged the Avon and Toyota events into a single series and began calling it the Virginia Slims World Championship Series. They renewed the WTA rankings, included all four majors and conducted around 56 events. This series laid the foundation based on which women’s tennis works today.
# 8 – 1993 – Monica Seles is stabbed by a crazy Steffi Graf fan
By this time, women’s tennis was no longer discriminated. People loved watching WTA matches and the passion was phenomenal. But, the passion took a wrong turn of events at Hamburg in 1993 when a crazy Steffi Graf fan jumped into the court to stab her fierce rival, Monica Seles.
This match was very important in tennis’ history because, after this event, the security level for all tennis matches escalated and we began seeing Police patrol in all major events.
# 9 – 2001 – Williams Sisters dominate tennis
Tennis was not a race friendly sport. In the early days, minorities had been discouraged and often excluded for participation in tennis events because, to white people, tennis symbolized prestige.
But, in 2001, two great talents, that too African-American sisters, played in the finals of the US Open. The symbolism was indeed great. Women’s tennis has transcended everything and began its dawn into a newer and better place.
# 10 – 2007 – All Grandslams award equal prize money to both Men’s and Women’s Championships.
Although the US Open offered equal prize money to both the Men’s and Women’s single champions way back in 1973, it took a lot of time for the other Majors to do the same.
Australian Open did it in 2000 but the French and Wimbledon Championships were still not favoring the move.
In 2006, Venus Williams, along with the WTA board, began pushing for equal prize money and by 2007, all the four majors awarded equal prize money to both Men’s and Women’s singles champions.
The difference which was at a 12:1 ratio is now no more. Women’s tennis has grown leaps and bounds and today, it is arguably the best sport for women in the world.