x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A monumental service to tennis by the Original Nine

Women players have Billie Jean King and her contemporaries to thank for leading a movement 40 years ago to bring money into the sport.

Maria Sharapova has banked Dh91million. Michaela Rehle / Reuters
Maria Sharapova has banked Dh91million. Michaela Rehle / Reuters

Nina Bratchikova is a 26-year-old Russian whose name probably means nothing even to ardent tennis fans. Understandably, given that she ranks No 67 in 2012 WTA prize money.

Yet she, like the 66 women above her in the table, already has banked more than US$100,000 (Dh367,000) only four months into this year.

Bratchikova and the other women winning significant amounts of money on the WTA Tour might, from time to time, want to thank the pioneers known as the Original Nine.

They were the nine women, led by Billie Jean King, a 12-time grand slam champion, who broke away from the tennis establishment in 1970, a process that led to the formation in 1973 of the WTA, now celebrating its 40th season.

Seven of the sporting world's 10 leading female wage earners in the 12 months ending in June 2011, were tennis players, according to Forbes magazine.

First on the list? Maria Sharapova, who banked $25 million in winnings and endorsements during that period. Caroline Wozniacki earned $12.5m. Also on the list: Venus and Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Li Na and, trailing the rest, Ana Ivanovic at $6m.

King and eight others broke away at a time when the female winner of the 1970 Italian Open, King herself, received $600. The male winner, Ilie Nastase, won $3,500.

Perhaps a women's tennis tour was inevitable. But perhaps it would not have started when it did if not for King and the eight others who signed $1 contracts with World Tennis Magazine to promote women's tournaments.

"We had no idea that this little dollar would turn into millions," said Rosie Casals, one of the more prominent members of the group, which included two Australians, Kerry Meville and Judy Dalton.

King, Casals and the others were urged not to break away, and it was suggested their careers would be harmed. Yet only three years later the WTA had come around, and that same year the US Open offered women the same prize money as men.

Some of the modern players recognise the actions taken by an older generation of players. "I think women's tennis right now is doing amazing," Serena Williams said. "We're getting paid the same amount as men."

Last month, the Original Nine reminisced about those early days when they came together for the 40th Family Circle Cup in the US state of South Carolina. It was one of the first lucrative tournaments for women, with an astonishing 1973 purse of $100,000.

Now, Nina Bratchikova makes more than that in four months. And the 2012 money leader, Victoria Azarenka, is past $4m and counting.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

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