Kristy Pigeon was just 20 when she took a stand as one of the Original 9 at the Virginia Slims Invitational in 1970. Winner of the US and Wimbledon junior titles, the left-hander went on to reach the round of 16 at the All England in 1968 and 1969 and was ranked in the US Top 10.
Pigeon left the tour in 1975 aged 25 and earned a BA degree in Art and Biology from UC Berkeley. After returning briefly to play World Team Tennis she moved to Idaho, where she ran the Elkorn Tennis School for 11 years. In 1991 she founded the Sagebrush Equine Training Center for the Handicapped, which became one of the nation’s premier horse-assisted therapy venues. Having retired as executive director of SETCH in 2011, she is an active environmentalist.
wtatennis.com: How did you get into tennis?
KP: At the age of six I joined a competitive swim team in my hometown of Danville, California. During the summer of 1962 a free tennis program was offered at the community recreation center located just a stone’s throw from the pool. After swimming practice I put on my Keds and headed to the courts still outfitted in my black Speedo swimsuit. At the end of the summer I won the city tournament and became hooked on tennis.
At what moment did you know you loved playing tennis and wanted to choose it as a career?
KP: After winning the city tournament I accepted a job at the Diablo Country Club cleaning the pro shop in exchange for lessons. At age 13 my mom entered me in the Northern California Tennis Association junior tournaments and I quickly rose to the top of my age division. At the beginning of 1968 I set a challenging goal and decided that tennis was the most important element of my life.
How has your life been impacted by tennis?
KP: Tennis afforded me the opportunity to develop confidence and life skills that I carry with me to this day. The travel and international camaraderie exposed me to a big world at a young age. My ability to set goals and stay focused was developed because of my tennis experiences.
What is your most memorable experience while playing on the WTA Tour?
KP: My most memorable experience was not playing on the tour but helping set the foundation in 1970 that led to the formation of the WTA in 1973. As one of the Original 9, I fought for equal prize money for women and men.
How would you describe your style of play? What were your strengths?
KP: Since I preferred to serve and volley, my best performances were on grass. I think for quite a while I held the record for having played the shortest match in the French Open! In my first red clay court match I lost to Ann Haydon Jones 6-0, 6-0 in 39 minutes. I learned that the serve-and-volley game does not work on slow clay!
What have you been up to since retiring?
KP: After retiring from tennis and earning a BA degree I moved to Sun Valley, Idaho. I taught skiing in the winter and operated a tennis school during the summer. In 1991, I founded a non-profit therapeutic horse-riding program to serve mentally and physically challenged adults and children in southern Idaho. Today my focus is building wetlands and restoring habitat for wildlife.
Describe an obstacle you were able to overcome during your tennis career.
KP: My dad was unsupportive of my interest in tennis. Instead of practicing on the court he thought I should be trying out for high school cheerleader. His idea of the perfect woman was one who wore tight angora sweaters and sported very high heels! I overcame this obstacle by disassociating myself from my dad, maintaining my chosen path and accepting support from my mom.
Who do you look up to, and why?
KP: Gladys Heldman. She was an innovator, a successful businesswoman and a creative thinker. I remained friends with Gladys long after we formed the Virginia Slims Circuit. She became my mentor in the art of becoming a successful fundraiser to benefit non profit organizations.
Describe your most memorable win and what you learned from it.
KP: I won the Welsh Open in 1968 after having almost lost to a local girl in the first round. I was playing horribly against this unknown and lost my temper. After squeaking out a victory I discovered that every point can determine the outcome of a match and that one needed to stay poised and focused on every point. An attitude adjustment helped me win the tournament.
What was your favorite tournament to play?
KP: Hands down, Wimbledon! There is nothing more beautiful in the world than a well-manicured tennis court!
What is your favorite movie about sports?
KP: Battle of the Sexes, of course!