In September 1970, when the Original 9 signed their $1 contracts with Gladys Heldman, Nancy Richey was a 28-year-old two-time Grand Slam champion having won the Australian Championships in 1967 and the French Open in 1968. During a career that spanned two decades the Texan won 69 singles titles (19 in the Open Era), including a record six successive US Clay Court Championships, and ranked as high as No.2. She also won four Grand Slam doubles titles. Richey retired after the 1978 US Open – the first to be played at Flushing Meadows – at the age of 36. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2003.
Nancy reflects: “I knew tennis back in the amateur days when we had to take the subway from Midtown Manhattan out to Forest Hills carrying our bags, and then take the subway back, the bags weighing 50 pounds each full of wet tennis clothes. No money, no lunchroom, nothing. Now the players are playing for millions, the women get equal prize money and the game has grown so much. I think it's absolutely fantastic. Every time I walk into Flushing Meadows I hug myself, because it's what we dreamed would happen in our game.
“I still feel the same way as I did then about the inequities. We were so discriminated against – I was at the point where I didn't care if I never played another Grand Slam. I felt we were kind of going down a dead end anyway. We took a risk, but I knew Gladys Heldman had been a success at everything she had ever put her hand to, and I felt she would be a successful tournament promoter as well. Everybody that signed the dollar contract with Gladys was committed, and it didn't take long to see that we had a good thing going. It was more than a success.
“I enjoyed wearing Teddy Tinling's outfits. Of course, I got the scraps because I wore jumpsuits – he could take little pieces of fabric from the other girls’ dresses and put them together! But they were beautifully made. In fact, I was a seamstress. That was almost my first love in those days – over tennis, even. And so, I really appreciated that it was a piece of artwork that Teddy put together. I still have everything he made for me, except the one I gave to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Nowadays even the guys are getting into the fashion side of things and it's fun to see what they come up with!
“While we didn’t earn like the players do today, it's not like we didn’t get in on some. I could have lived five or 10 years before and not seen anything. And I’m really proud of the fact that I was one of the ones that helped bring it all in – I mean, you can’t put a price on that. I’m glad I saw and participated in the amateur days, the transition to Open tennis and the early days of the WTA Tour. That’s a wonderful thing. Not that I wouldn't have liked to make more money, but that was a neat period, too.”
Interview by Adam Lincoln.