Judy Dalton was 32 years old when she finished runner-up to Rosie Casals at the Virginia Slims Invitational in Houston. During her career Dalton (née Tegart) won nine Grand Slam doubles titles (including five with Margaret Court), earning a career Grand Slam. In singles, she reached the final at Wimbledon in 1968, upsetting Court and Richey before succumbing to King. From Wimbledon in 1967 until her retirement after the 1977 Australian Open at the age of 40, Dalton reached at least the quarters in 10 of 20 majors played. She was also a member of two victorious Fed Cup squads.
Judy reflects: “I know exactly what I did with my prize money from Houston: my husband David and I had just bought a house in Melbourne, and I sent most of my pay home to help pay it off. In fact, as payments became more regular with the new Virginia Slims Circuit, I’d keep $100 for spending money – which was quite a lot of money back then – and send the rest home in a cheque. The girls used to laugh at me, but between us, David and I paid off the house quite nicely. That kind of joint effort was quite unusual at the time, and our bank manager, who I’d known since childhood, was impressed!
“Before there was a professional tour, I actually worked as a bookkeeper when I wasn’t playing tennis. In those days, the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia (LTAA) wouldn’t let any of us – men or women – play more than six months of the year. These days, that would be called restraint of trade! Some of the guys went and played as pros in places like South Africa, Hong Kong and Italy but the rest of us had to keep coming home. I had a friend who owned an accounting firm and so I studied chartered accountancy. I got through about two thirds of the exams; although I never finished, I have to say it came in very handy in the end.
“The politicking in tennis was really difficult at times, but when we signed our $1 contracts with Gladys Heldman we knew it was the right thing to do. A few weeks earlier, I’d helped circulate a questionnaire during the US Open which asked for the public’s views on women’s tennis. Plenty of male fans said they enjoyed it more, actually, because they could associate their own games with it – the rallies, tactics and so on – and that was another reason to be confident.
“While we did see the bigger picture of equality in Houston, I don’t think we really realized what a tumultuous thing it would turn out to be. Billie Jean took the greatest risk, because she could have played anywhere, but she was determined to challenge the status quo. For that I admire her greatly, because the new tour wouldn’t have gone ahead if she hadn’t signed.
“I just think it’s terrific that there are players from so many countries now. I don’t think we really could have dreamed tennis would become such an international sport – even though there were Russian players, we always thought they’d be so restricted from playing. You’ve got to admire the players today, wherever they are from. They work so hard and are so keen to do well. Of course, I wouldn’t have minded playing in these times – money wise it certainly would have been extremely satisfying!”
Interview by Adam Lincoln