On Wednesday, fans on Twitter witnessed the beginnings of potentially a big shakeup in tennis governance around the world. WTA founder Billie Jean King joined Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on Wednesday in suggesting that it’s time to merge the men’s ATP and women’s body into one umbrella organisation to oversee the two professional tennis tours.
Federer, holder of the men’s record of 20 Grand Slams, was the first to raise the notion, triggering an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from King and Nadal.
“Just wondering…..am I the only one thinking that now is the time for men’s and women’s tennis to be united and come together as one?” Federer said.
“I am not talking about merging competition on the court, but merging the 2 governing bodies (ATP and WTA) that oversee the men’s and women’s professional tours.”
Trailblazer Jean King, who was a part of establishing the WTA in 1973 and was one of the ‘Original 9’ on the tour, said her support for the idea dates back decades.
“I agree, and have been saying so since the early 1970s. One voice, women and men together, has long been my vision for tennis. The WTA on its own was always Plan B. I’m glad we are on the same page. Let’s make it happen. #OneVoice,” she tweeted.
King, in fact, founded WTA on the principle of equal opportunity for women in sports. In 2019, the WTA was watched by a record-breaking global audience of 700 million.
As published on the WTA website, here’s the story how the organisation came into being:
Billie Jean King and her group of eight other renegades were revolutionary by 1970s standards. A full two years ahead of the passage of Title IX in the United States, they envisioned a better future for women’s tennis.
In September 1970, the birth of women’s professional tennis was launched when nine players signed $1 contracts with World Tennis publisher Gladys Heldman to compete in a new women’s tour, the Virginia Slims Series. The Original 9, as they were called, included Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Kerry Melville, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Judy Dalton, Valerie Ziegenfuss and Julie Heldman.
Heldman, along with her friend Joe Cullman from Philip Morris and several others, provided women’s professional tennis the opportunity the Original 9 and so many others sought. The inaugural $7,500 Virginia Slims of Houston was established on September 23, 1970 and it was the event that became the groundbreaker for all others.
And then in 1971 The Virginia Slims Series made a bow with 19 tournaments, with a total purse of $309,100 on offer in the United States. King became the first female athlete to cross the six-figure mark in season earnings.
In 1973, Billie Jean King eventually founded the Women’s Tennis Association, uniting all of women’s professional tennis in one tour.
The WTA was born out of a meeting of more than 60 players held in a room at the Gloucester Hotel in London the week before Wimbledon. The US Open, for the first time, offered equal prize money to men and women. Weeks later, King stunned Bobby Riggs in The Battle of the Sexes at the Houston Astrodome.
All that might soon become confined to the history books if the ATP and the WTA decide to merge.
(You can read more about the timeline of WTA’s history here.)
(With AFP inputs)