NEWPORT, R.I. -- Fifty years after changing the course of professional tennis, the Original 9 on Saturday were elected into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Led by Billie Jean King, the Original 9 risked their careers, separating themselves from the tennis establishment, to fight for equal rights with their male counterparts.
King, along with Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Julie Heldman, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Judy Dalton, and Kerry Melville Reid were recognized as the first group to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame.
"The nine of us, along with our fearless leader Gladys Heldman, had one vision for the future of women's tennis," King said in her induction speech. "We wanted any girl in the world, if she was good enough, would have a place to compete, to be recognized for her accomplishments, not only her looks, and most importantly, to be able to make a living playing professional tennis.
"Today's professional tennis players on the WTA Tour are living our dream. Women's tennis is the leader in women's sports."
Wonderful to spend time with 6 of the #Original9 today @TennisHalloFame, ahead of tomorrow’s induction ceremony.— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) July 17, 2021
Cheers to you, Peaches Barkowicz, Rosie Casals, Julie Heldman, Kristy Pigeon, Kerry Melville Reid, & Valerie Ziegenfuss.
📷: Tennis Hall of Fame #Original9 pic.twitter.com/JU5jMYyCYv
With their induction as part of the Original 9, King, Casals and Richey became the first individuals to be inducted into the Hall of Fame twice. They were previously inducted individually for their on-court achievements. Julie Heldman, along with her mother, Gladys, became the second mother-daughter duo to be enshrined. Gladys Heldman was inducted for her contributions to tennis in 1979.
Seven of the nine members of the Original 9 were on hand in Newport this weekend. Each took some time to explain what this latest honor means to them. Here's a snippet of what they had to say:
Billie Jean King
"Gladys said to me, 'Well, I can't pay you.' I said, 'Well Gladys, a dollar is just as binding as a trillion dollars.' She said, 'You guys would do it for that?' I said, 'Gladys, we would do anything. We believe in you.'
"Just before we have that iconic photo, I'm around the corner talking to Alistair Martin, the president of the USLTA, pleading with him to do a tour, one last time. But I also wanted to show him the courtesy of telling him what we're doing. I didn't want him to read about it the next morning and not have any idea. I thought it was the right thing to do.
"So I was talking to him, and he said, 'Nope, you can't do it.' I said, 'Well, you left us no choice. So I want you to know when I'm hanging up, they're ready for me to sign this one dollar contract with Gladys Heldman.' He said, 'You're going to get suspended, I'm telling you not to do it.' I said, 'You're giving us no choice.'
"Women's tennis, because of that moment, is still relevant because we're the leaders of many sports. Because of that moment, every time a woman gets a check of any kind, whether it be at a WTA Tour event, the majors, it's because of that moment of time."
"Special thanks to all of you for completing our journey and allowing the Original 9 to once again make our history in the game that we love and helped shape, into the future. To my warriors who stood tall and invincible so long ago so women's tennis could be what it's become, the showcase for women's sports, one last time I am proud to stand with them and before all of you as a humble believer that anything is possible if women stand together as we were and still are."
"By now, most of you have seen the iconic photo of our group taken in Houston in September of 1970, just before the ground-breaking tournament we have come to celebrate. The photo shows eight top women tennis players, grinning and raising one dollar bills, alongside my mother, the architect and engineer of the early tour. She is no longer with us, but we are grateful for all the miracles she pulled off."
"Yes, there were eight women in the photo, not nine, because I'm not in the photo. I hadn't planned to compete in Houston because at that time I was so deeply wounded, physically and mentally, that I wouldn't compete at a tournament for another five months. But I, like the other eight women, understood the importance of the moment. And when I heard my pals and rivals were taking a risk for women's tennis, I jumped in to join them.
"So I competed in Houston by playing just one point, out of solidarity to stand up against the male-dominated tennis associations that were threatening our right to earn a living. Billie Jean King and I went out on a side court. After a few moments of pitty-pat tennis, I intentionally hit the ball into the net, an act that was totally foreign to my nature. Once we cemented the deal by shaking hands at the net, our group became the Original 9.
"The nine of us were rebels, but we were not alone. The Houston tournament could only accommodate eight players, but plenty more women would have taken the risk if they only had the opportunity. Sure, it's true that not every woman player chose to join us right away. But let's not forget that soon after the tour got underway, women players arrived in droves from around the world ready to stand together. Without that kind of solidarity, the tour might have fizzled out quickly. The Original 9 are being honored today for our courageous stand, but also as the symbol of all the early competitors on the women's pro tour who banded together for the present and future of women's tennis.
"This honor has been 51 years in the making, but it remains exquisitely timely. Since 1970, vastly increased number of girls and women have participated in sports and many have excelled. And once again, the sound of rebellion is in the air, spearheaded by the Women's National Soccer Team, but repeated throughout women's sports, echoing our long ago demand to be respected and paid for doing what we did best. By honoring the Original 9 today, the International Tennis Hall of Fame is sending a message to female athletes in all sports. The message is, keep fighting. Your time is coming."
"It was the time when you just needed to take a stand. You have to take risks. Now that I'm older and I've had a bone marrow transplant, that was a risk. If I didn't take that risk, you wouldn't be interviewing me here right now. I think the same thing about us that took the dollar, actually took a risk. I was reborn with my bone marrow transplant. I feel that tennis was reborn with us accepting that one dollar and that was the birth of a new era."
"I'm glad for [the current players] and I'm glad for the money they make. But I tell you, I love my sisters. I think we were unique. There was a tightness there. It's a different feeling now. It's a business, a pure business, I think. I'm glad they're making the money and I'm glad that we started it, but I wouldn't trade a lot of the stuff that we went through."
"I was there in 1968 at the first open tournament in Bournemouth, England. I was the first one to report my score, 1 and 0, way to go. At that time, we were just getting going and the women played with the men. History shows that the reason that we developed women's tennis is we wanted more, more piece of pie.
"So at that time, we got paid prize money, it was the first open tournament. We were just going along for two years before we saw everything changed. And the biggest thing for me is we weren't getting the tournaments. I wanted to play tennis, I wanted to travel, and we were not getting the events. So although they talk about equal prize money and getting a circuit of our own, the biggest thing for me was that finally in January, I could play 14 out of 16 weeks. That was huge in my mind.
"Gladys found the circuit, got found a sponsor, coordinated with tournament directors. Gladys Heldman put us on the map. Without Gladys knowing Joe [Cullman], knowing the Virginia Slims sponsorship, it wouldn't have started.
"But if we don't have a great leader, they're not going to come back. They're going to watch a couple matches. To build the sport, we had to have a good product. Our leader, Billie Jean King, was amazing. It's very rare to find a leader like that, that would do all the press, that saw and had the vision of where we were going to go.
"So without Billie Jean, people would not have come back and filled the stands. That's huge. Billie Jean put us on the map.
"I feel proud and grateful, amazed that so many people now have jobs because of tennis. I'm very proud that tennis has grown so much, men's and women's, that people can earn a living, that it's this enormous. I get to watch it. I get to be part of it. If there wasn't this big, it wouldn't be on CBS and I wouldn't be on ESPN.
"I get to still live the game because of the huge prize money that tennis offers. My granddaughter can play and earn a living, as my daughter did. I'm just very proud that we did that, that I'm part of that.
"What we started then jumped into more attention for Title IX. So you start impacting the grassroots level of women's sports. It's amazing that because of everything that fell into place, with Title IX and other sports being available for the girls because of money and because of what we did, it's really impacted where we are today. It's what we started. Yay, us!"
Kerry Melville Reid
"It's amazing to think that 50 years ago I was playing here in Newport in the first Virginia Slims tournament. I was lucky enough to win the tournament on the last point. We went to a tiebreaker in the third set and Jimmy Van Alen was here and he was waving his flags around, 'It's the first tiebreaker coming!' It went to 4-all and we played one point for the match and I won.
"Looking back then and looking at how far women's tennis has come in that time, it's really amazing and I'm really proud to be part of that.
"I also want to give a shoutout to Judy Dalton. She was the other Aussie in the Original 9. She lived in Melbourne with me and I used to play a lot with her and she was a little older than me. When we were deciding whether we'd sign up with the Original 9, I was looking at Judy. Well if it's good enough for Judy, I'm doing it. If Billie Jean's doing this, I think this is a good thing. They're putting their tennis careers on the line, possibly. So I decided to join the Original 9 and I'm really happy that I did."
Judy Tegart Dalton, joining the induction remotely
"Hi girls, it's great to see you. So sad that I'm not there with you, but I am in spirit. And to Kerry, thank you for those words.
"It's an honor to be part of the Original 9. I want to thank you for your friendship and support over the years and also that we were a part of and created history, which is really special. I'd also like to thank the board of the International Tennis Hall of Fame for recognizing us for what we did. I also hope you are all safe during these difficult times. I hope you have a lovely evening. Thanks so much for the honor."
"The first thing that happened to me was when I was 10 years old, my brother went out for little league. My mom was going to take him and I said, 'Mom I want to come, too.' My mom was game for anything. She put my hair up in a baseball cap and my brother and I showed up and they said, 'You're Chris, right?' You're at bat.'
"There's a kid pitching and he throws me a fastball and I whack it and it hits him right in the head, cold-cocks him. We all ran over to make sure he's OK. And of course, in doing so my hair comes out of the hat and they discover I'm a girl. Out I went. So that was the first time that I realized that, well, there are certain things that girls can't do."
"In 1968 I broke into the international tennis scene and at that time, women played on the back courts and women's sports were trivialized. The same year at age 17 I became the top junior in the world by winning Wimbledon and the US title and I set a new goal. That new goal was to go to college and play on a team and receive a scholarship. No such thing. The phone didn't ring. Then in 1970, Jack Kramer got aced by nine women.
"We were misfits, troublemakers, rebels, but we were just crazy enough to change the world of tennis. We tried hard and sure enough, we changed it."
"We were troublemakers. And now, today...we're rockstars." ✨— Tennis Hall of Fame (@TennisHalloFame) July 17, 2021
Together and ready to take their place amongst tennis' legends in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. This evening, the Original 9 will be the first group ever inducted into the ITHF.#EnshrinementWeekend | @wta pic.twitter.com/ArxeBuZPg6