In tennis, the governing body of men’s tennis is the All Tennis Professionals (ATP). Similarly, the organization responsible for governing women’s tennis globally is called the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). The WTA was formed after the recognition of two important scenes that hindered women’s tennis. Firstly, they were unaware of the tournaments that they were allowed to play in. Secondly, they earned less than half of the prize money compared to their male counterparts.
In 1968, a new era in tennis dawned, as the professionals and amateurs ended their divide and played all events together. When the first Wimbledon was held in the Open Era, the men’s singles champion earned £2000, whereas the women’s singles champion earned £750. Back then, the World Championship Tennis (WCT) and the National Tennis League (NTL) governed the women’s game. The women’s No.1 back then, Billie Jean King, was a part of the NTL. She, along with Ann Jones, Rosie Casals and Francoise Durr formed their own tour which was backed by promoter George Mccall. Apart from the US Open and Wimbledon, this group of players organized their own events. But in the late 60s, they were banned by the United States Lawn Tennis Association and subsequently dropped from the rankings. When 1970 arrived, the men earned twelves times more than the women.
Enter: Gladys Heldman
Gladys Heldman was a former tennis athlete but is mainly known for her contributions to women’s tennis off the court. A publisher for World Tennis Magazine, Heldman took out $5000 from her own pocket and signed a $1 contract with nine female tennis players: Billie Jean King, Nancy Richey, Rosie Casals, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville Reid and Judy Dalton. This bunch of players went on to be famous as the Original 9.
Heldman first aimed at the Pacific Southwest Championships in Los Angeles that paid eight times more to the men than the women. After Jack Kramer, the tournament director refused for equal pay, the nine women boycotted the event. They formed their own Houston Women’s Invitation Tournament that gave away $7500 to the winner.
Virginia Slims Circuit
Slowly and steadily, the United States saw a professional women’s tour across its cites. 19 tournaments and 31 players helped in achieveing a total prize money of $3,09,100. This circuit got famous as the Virginia Slims Circuit. In 1973, at the Gloucester Hotel in London, with Wimbledon a week away, Billie Jean King organized a meeting with the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF). In the meeting, it was decided that the US Open will be the first slam to provide equal prize money to both the men and the women.
Colgate, Toyota and Avon were roped in the 80s and the main sponsors of the Virginia Slims Circuit. Now famous as the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) a majority of the events now pay the men and women equally. The WTA has its professional events (apart from the slams) structured as WTA 1000, WTA 500 and WTA 250 events (apart from the slams) that offer 1000/900, 470 and 280 ranking points to the winner respectively. There is also an year-ending championship where the eight best women compete for the title and 1500 ranking points. The next best lot of eight players also play in an year-ending championships where the winner is given 700 ranking points.
As of 2021, the WTA Tour is chaired by Steve with Mickey Lawler as the President.