Kerry Melville was 23 when she joined the Original 9 to play the Virginia Slims Invitational at Houston in 1970. Her career haul of 22 singles titles is highlighted by her home Grand Slam, the Australian Open, in 1977; a further 40 finals included the Australian Open in 1970, and in 1972 both the US Open and the Virginia Slims Circuit’s first season finale (now the WTA Finals). A singles Top 10 regular throughout the Seventies, she also won three doubles majors, including Wimbledon in 1978 with Wendy Turnbull.
Kerry reflects: “Houston felt like the start of something, and I remember being excited. But although I wanted a better deal, I wouldn't put myself in the feminist category. I went a lot by what Judy Dalton did – it was good having her around. I think my parents were a little concerned about the risk we were taking, but I felt we had a strong leader in Billie Jean. I think that's why a lot of us felt we had good legs to stand on – she was a top player and she was powerful. And I remember how determined Gladys Heldman was to get a tour started. She was such a great believer and had the connections to make it happen.
“As the two Australians in the Original 9, Judy and I were banned from playing at home for a while, but everything turned out fine in the end. Some of the other girls took more time to come on board the new circuit and I could understand – it was a big decision to make in your career. But I could also see why their reluctance aggravated others who had been prepared to take a stand.
“Having been beaten in the final by Margaret Court in 1970, finally winning the Australian Open in 1977, playing fellow Aussie Dianne Fromholtz in the final, is a very special memory. And aside from reaching the US Open final, I'd put winning the Wimbledon doubles with Wendy up there with my best moments.
“As for favorite tournaments, I always liked to play the Family Circle Cup at Hilton Head. I got to the final four times, including the last final of my career, in 1979. I beat Martina Navratilova for the first time in tournament play in the semis but then lost to Tracy Austin in two tiebreaks! As it turned out, Hilton Head is where my husband Raz Reid and I chose to settle and raise our daughters, Kati and Kimi. It’s a special place for us.
“Looking back, I'm just really proud to have been one of the first girls on the new tour, and proud of what tennis has become. The game just gets better and better, stronger and stronger. Back then, it did mean a lot of extra work for us, doing so much media and PR and the like… I don't know how we had time to hit a ball, actually! Billie Jean and Rosie were especially busy with it all, but we all contributed.”
Interview by Adam Lincoln.