NEWPORT, R.I. – The Original 9, former ATP World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and pioneering coach Dennis Van der Meer will be the recipients of the ultimate honor in tennis this year – induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
The nine women who comprise the Original 9 are Americans Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Julie Heldman, Billie Jean King, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, and Australians Judy Tegart Dalton and Kerry Melville Reid. They become the first group to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, in the Contributor Category, an honor previously only presented to individuals.
On September 23, 1970, the Original 9 took a bold stand that would change the course of the sport’s history. Frustrated by the growing disparity in prize money and playing opportunities for women in professional tennis, they signed $1 contracts with World Tennis Magazine publisher Gladys Heldman to compete in a new tournament for women – the Virginia Slims Invitational at the Houston Racquet Club. The success of the event, won by Casals, led to the creation of the Virginia Slims Circuit in 1971 and paved the way for today’s WTA Tour.
“It’s extremely rewarding to see the impact the Original 9 made 50 years ago can still be felt around the world today,” said King, who, along with Casals and Richey, has already earned Hall of Fame recognition for her playing career.
“There were three things we were really focused on achieving. Number one, that any girl born in this world, would have a place to play and compete. Number two, that women would be appreciated for our accomplishments, not just our looks. And number three, that women would finally be able to make a living playing professional tennis.
“I’d also like to add my congratulations to rest of the Class of 2021,” King continued. “My friend and coach Dennis Van der Meer was a brilliant tennis mind and instrumental in our sport’s growth. Lleyton Hewitt always gave 100 per cent on the court and he is a true Hall of Famer.”
Hewitt, who amassed 30 singles titles during his 18-year career on the ATP Tour and was instrumental in two Davis Cup victories for Australia, will be inducted in the Player Category. Van der Meer, a Namibian native who later became a U.S. citizen, was a legendary coach of top players and a teaching professional who developed a standardized manner of teaching tennis in order to effectively grow the sport. He will be inducted in the Contributor Category posthumously, having passed away in 2019.
“It’s a pleasure to welcome these tennis greats into the International Tennis Hall of Fame,” said Stan Smith, President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. “The Original 9 were true trailblazers,” Smith added. “It took a lot of courage to do what they did, and we have today’s incredible WTA Tour to thank for it, as well as opportunities for women in so many other sports.”
The Induction Ceremony for the Class of 2021 is scheduled to be held at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. on Saturday, July 17. The 2020 ceremony was cancelled due to Covid-19, and so the celebrations will also honor Class of 2020 inductees Conchita Martinez and Goran Ivanisevic.
“As we look ahead to the summer months, we are moving forward with plans for a terrific celebration in Newport to honor not just one, but two inspiring induction classes of Hall of Fame greats,” said Todd Martin, CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
“We are planning these events with the health and safety of all guests as the top priority,” he added. “In addition to the traditional in-person ceremony and celebration, we are developing a variety of virtual programs so fans around the world can easily and safely participate.”
Original 9: Hall of Fame Reaction Quotes
Billie Jean King: “To be honored together for having an impact on tennis history and being part of the International Tennis Hall of Fame together is just terrific. Today, every time a woman gets a cheque for competing in a Grand Slam or the WTA Tour or any pro tournament, you can trace it back to that day, to September 23rd, 1970, when we signed the $1 contract with Gladys Heldman. That was the birth of women’s professional tennis, the way you know it today as the leading professional sport for women.”
Rosie Casals: “The Original 9 were courageous and brave at a time when we could have given in. As a result, I think people paid attention to women in sports. The impact we made was that, yes, we can – we can do this. We can earn a living. We can have a career in sports and eventually go to college and pursue academics as well as a sport. History speaks for itself when you look at what the WTA Tour is now and where it’s come from. We’ve come a long way, baby.”
Kristy Pigeon: “I'm profoundly honored that the International Tennis Hall of Fame has elected to induct us. I guess you could say we were women’s tennis suffragettes, in a way! When you look at the prize money that the women now make, and the fact that girls playing tennis are popular and recognized – and not going through what I went through, like being teased when I went jogging – it’s fantastic. Today, it’s really cool to be an athlete, strong is beautiful and not a negative quality in a woman. I think there’s still a lot more work to be done, but I think we set the course.”
Julie Heldman: “Being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame is the highest honor in tennis. I'm thrilled and excited and proud that the women who stood up for the future of women’s tennis are being recognized at this time.”
Judy Tegart Dalton: “For us to be given this honor is really something special and I think it’s great recognition for what the Original 9 did. We achieved recognition for women’s tennis, but also for women’s sport as a whole. We worked so hard but when we took such a big chance, we didn’t realize how significant it would be 50 years on.”
Kerry Melville Reid: “It means a lot that the Hall of Fame agreed to induct us as a group. When we broke away from the men and started the women’s tour, we had a goal and we just worked really hard. Those early tournaments, we barely had time to even practice – we were doing so much PR, clinics, and everything else to try and promote each event. It took a lot of dedication, but I think we did a good job for women’s tennis and women in general, as it turned out.”
Valerie Ziegenfuss: “We were believers. We believed in ourselves, our product, in Gladys Heldman. We believed in Virginia Slims as a sponsor. We believed in Billie Jean as our leader. Looking down the road we wanted to further ourselves as a product. We believed that we could get more prize money, and that people would come and watch women’s tennis. At the time, somebody had to do it. And it was us. It means the world for us to be recognized by being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.”
The International Tennis Hall of Fame’s Voting Group is made up of media, historians, and Hall of Famers, with fans also given a chance to have their say. For more information about plans to celebrate the Class of 2021, visit tennisfame.com/enshrinement.
To learn more about the Original 9, click here (WTATennis.com/Original-9)