How a $1 bill propelled women’s tennis into prominence

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On September 23, 1970, nine women -- including Billie Jean King -- signed a symbolic $1 contract that changed the course of history. On Wednesday, 50 years on, the leading women players paid tribute to the efforts of those who paved the way for them.

The Original 9 — Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Julie Heldman, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Judy Dalton, Kerry Melville Reid, Peaches Bartkowicz, and Kristy Pigeon — all came together to sign a contract that would eventually pave the way for the formation of the WTA Tour.

It was a huge risk; the players were threatened by the then USLTA (United States Lawn Tennis Association) with suspension from the Grand Slams and international team events. But having seen their playing opportunities limited since the advent of professional tennis in 1968 and seen their prize money reduced to up to 12 times less than the men, it was one that would change tennis history. Heldman’s mother, Gladys Heldman, who was the publisher of World Tennis Magazine, used her extensive contacts to find a sponsor, and what would later become the Virginia Slims Tour began with a tournament in Houston.

Today, the WTA hosts 60 events in 28 countries, with a total prize money pot of $179 million (including the four Grand Slams) for more than 1,800 players. Since 2007, when Wimbledon finally followed suit, all four slams have carried equal prize money.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, getting all the most famous women in one place for a photo was not possible. But in Strasbourg, nine top players — among them top-10 stars including Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens — recreated the famous photo, posing (at an appropriate social distance, of course) and wearing masks. It was a special 2020 twist, as the WTA said.

At the US Open earlier this month, leading players from Serena Williams to Naomi Osaka, and Petra Kvitova to Coco Gauff, all posed for photos with a $1 bill, and on Wednesday the WTA posted a video with all of them giving their own tributes.

On Wednesday, Twitter posts came in from all over the world; from world No 1 Ash Barty, to world No 2 Simona Halep, to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (one of the nine in the Strasbourg shot), to former world No 1s Kim Clijsters, to Ana Ivanovic, to former Grand Slam champion Gabriela Sabatini and from Billie Jean King herself.

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