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Happy 40th, Stanford!

It's a case of many, many happy returns for the oldest women-only event on the Tour, which turns 40 this week.

Published July 26, 2010 12:00

Happy 40th, Stanford!
Bank of the West Classic

STANFORD, CA, USA - The 40th birthday of the Bank of the West Classic isn't just something for local fans and those with a particular connection to the tournament to celebrate. As well as being the first stop on the Olympus US Open Series, the event is the oldest women-only tournament on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, giving it a special significance on the calendar and indeed the history of women's tennis.

The British Motor Cars Invitational, as it was known in the seminal year of 1971, was in fact the first of 24 events that formed the first full season of the fully-fledged circuit Billie Jean King and her trailblazing cohorts had fought so hard for. King herself was victorious that year, beating Rosie Casals on a carpet court she had helped lay at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. Total prize money was $15,000 and the players literally hit the streets to canvas spectators - sometimes even giving away tickets.

King, who went on to win in Northern California three times, was just the first of nine women who've been ranked No.1 in singles and also lifted the trophy as it moved around the San Francisco Bay Area.

Martina Navratilova holds the record for most singles titles, with five between 1979 and 1993. Kim Clijsters isn't far behind with four wins, followed by Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport with three each. Monica Seles and Martina Hingis both triumphed twice, Margaret Court and Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario once apiece.

In 1974, following the merger of the Virginia Slims and USLTA Tours the previous year, the event became known as the Virginia Slims of California. Between 1979 and 1996 it was held at the Oakland Coliseum. As well as Virginia Slims, a top brand of tobacco giant Philip Morris, notable sponsors included cosmetics company Avon.

From 1990 till 2008 the tournament was a Tier II stop; last year it was classified a Premier level event under the Roadmap reforms. Bank of the West has held the title sponsorship since 1992, and the tournament has been held in the heart of Silicon Valley, on Stanford University's campus at Taube Family Tennis Stadium, since 1997.

To celebrate this milestone, tournament organizers have arranged a special presentation before the evening session semifinal of Saturday, July 31. Four former champions, each representing a different decade, will be on hand: King (1970s), two-time champion Andrea Jaeger (1980s), Davenport (1990s) and defending champion Marion Bartoli (2000s).

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