40 LOVE History: The Family Circle Cup
Published April 16, 2013 12:00
CHARLESTON, SC, USA - It's clear the Family Circle Cup is one of the most relevant tournaments on the WTA calendar - year after year, it attracts the very top players in the world. But it's important to know this isn't just a recent thing, it's been like this since the beginning - the very beginning.
The history of the Family Circle Cup is as deep as the history of the WTA - the first edition of the tournament came in 1973, the year all women's professional tennis was united in becoming the WTA.
The tournament was already making history that year: its $100,000 purse was the richest around, for women's and men's tennis events alike; the champion's paycheque of $30,000 was the biggest awarded to a female player all year; and it was the first women's event to be broadcast on network TV.
Across all of its venues - Hilton Head in 1973 and 1974, Amelia Island in 1975 and 1976, back to Hilton Head from 1977 to 2000 and Charleston from 2001 to present - and across all of its 41 years on the calendar, the Family Circle Cup boasts a very impressive list of champions. Twelve of the 21 players who have captured the trophy were World No.1s or have been at some point - Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario, Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati, Justine Henin, Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic, Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki.
And four decades on, Family Circle is the longest-running title sponsor of any tennis event in the world, and - perhaps more impressively - the longest-running title sponsor of any sporting event in the US.
Last year at the 40th edition of the tournament, the stadium court was renamed Billie Jean King court in honor of the WTA founder, and the Original 9 - the nine women who signed $1 contracts with Gladys Heldman to compete in what would become the Virginia Slims Series in 1970 - reunited there.
The Family Circle Cup is also the only tournament on the WTA calendar held on green clay.
"I think women's tennis is hands down the most popular sport for women, and internationally it's huge," Williams commented. "I believe that. And it's great when you think about where we started. The WTA started about 40 years ago and this has been our sponsor here for the whole time. It really makes you appreciate it, that someone can support the sport for so long. It really is a fantastic thing."
And the charms of the current host city weren't lost on this year's runner-up, Jelena Jankovic.
"It's such a beautiful city," Jankovic said. "It's very familiar. We feel so comfortable. The people are so nice. They treat us so nicely. I really get spoiled - we receive gifts every day, and Eleanor and Bob are so nice, some of the nicest people I know. I think all of the players enjoy coming back here and playing this tournament every year. We have great support, too, with such a great crowd rooting for all of the players and motivating us, inspiring us to bring out our best and really show our best tennis.
"It's nice to have that feeling. Hopefully I can continue to come every year, as long as I play."