When the Original 9 signed controversial $1 contracts to play a small tournament in Houston in September 1970, they knew it had to be only the start of something better. For women’s tennis to survive, let alone thrive, the players needed regular opportunities to play – a proper chance to make a living, which the sport’s male-dominated establishment didn’t care to provide.
Just three months later, thanks to the superhuman efforts of promoter Gladys Heldman and the vital support of Philip Morris chairman Joseph Cullman III, the inaugural Virginia Slims Circuit was ready to roll. The first stop was the British Motor Cars Invitation at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco – an exciting indoor venue for players accustomed to grass courts and country clubs.
Read More: Fifty Years Ago Today: Virginia Slims Circuit Kicks Off
Today, that tournament lives on as the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, hosted on campus at San Jose State University. But if the venues, dates and sponsors have shifted over the years, one thing hasn’t changed – the event has always attracted the best of the best to northern California’s Bay Area and has been won by 13 players who’ve ranked World No.1.
Speaking in Newport, Rhode Island in July as the Original 9 were inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Rosie Casals recalled: “Finally, we had a place to go that belonged to us and that we were going to build in partnership with Gladys and Virginia Slims. We were going to put the pieces together and make it work and we were going to have our own agenda. It was an exciting time. As players, we couldn’t have asked for more.”
Read More: Original 9, Conchita Martinez inducted into International Tennis Hall of Fame
Casals, who was born in San Francisco, added: “It was a wonderful, thrilling moment to step on to the court at the Civic Auditorium, having gone there when I was a kid to see the circus and the car shows. Little did I know, way back then, that this would be the start of something great.”
Facts & Figures: Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic
8 – The number of Original 9 members in the draw at San Francisco in 1971: Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Judy Dalton, Billie Jean King, Kerry Melville Reid, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey and Valerie Ziegenfuss; only the injured Julie Heldman was missing.
8 – New recruits who joined forces with the Original 9 to complete the first 16-strong singles field at San Francisco: Denise Carter, Françoise Dürr, Mary Ann Eisel, Esme Emanuel, Darlene Hard, Stephanie Johnson, Ann Jones and Karen Krantzcke.
15,000 – Total prize money on offer at the BMC Invitation was $15,000, with $4,300 awarded to the champion and $2,500 going to the runner-up. The most lucrative Grand Slam that year, the US Open, offered a total purse of just $39,000 to the women.
5 – The cost of a premium courtside seat in 1971 was $5.00, although tickets to an afternoon session could be had for as little as $1.50. The players also took to the streets and local supermarkets to hand out tickets to potential fans.
Photos: Judy Dalton's Original 9 Archive
3,100 – Number of fans who watched Billie Jean King defeat Rosie Casals, 6-3, 6-4, in the final of the inaugural event – reportedly more than attended a men’s final the same week. Casals/King combined to win the doubles over Dürr/Jones.
21 – The number of tournaments, starting in San Francisco, that made up the inaugural World Tennis Women’s Pro Tour – commonly known as the Virginia Slims Circuit – in 1971.
0 – The number of women-only tournaments that existed before the Original 9, promoter Gladys Heldman and headline sponsor Virginia Slims created a circuit that would evolve into today’s WTA Tour.
4 – Bay Area venues that have hosted the tournament over the past five decades: San Francisco Civic Auditorium, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena, Stanford University and, since 2018, San Jose State University.
2 – Surfaces the tournament has been played on: carpet (indoors) and hard courts (outdoors).
5 – Title sponsors over the years: British Motor Cars, Virginia Slims, Avon, Bank of the West, Mubadala.
5 – Martina Navratilova’s tournament record for singles titles, won over a 14-year span (1979-93). Her victims in finals included Chris Evert, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Larisa Savchenko, Monica Seles and Zina Garrison. Her 1993 title run was the second-to-last singles championship of her career, at age 37.
14 – Age of Venus Williams when she made her professional debut at Oakland in 1994. After winning her opener against fellow American Shaun Stafford, Williams pushed World No.2 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario to three sets in the second round.
6 – Different partners with whom Lindsay Davenport won her record haul of six doubles titles: Arantxa Sánchez Vicario (1994), Mary Joe Fernandez (1996), Martina Hingis (1997), Natasha Zvereva (1998), Corina Morariu (1999) and Liezel Huber (2010).
15 – Silicon Valley Classic singles champions who are also Grand Slam winners: Billie Jean King, Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Sue Barker, Martina Navratilova, Hana Mandlikova, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters, Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber. Among this group, only Barker and Mandlikova never topped the WTA Rankings.
17 – The number of countries represented on the tournament’s singles roll of champions, with Zheng Saisai adding China to the list on the most recent staging in 2019.
8 – Americans who’ve pocketed the title on home soil; in addition to the country’s Grand Slam champions, the list includes Grand Slam finalists Andrea Jaeger, Zina Garrison and Madison Keys.
85 – Aleksandra Wozniak’s ranking when she won the title in 2008, defeating Marion Bartoli in the final. The Canadian remains the only qualifier to triumph at the event and she made her Top 50 debut as a result.
49 – Although the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic is celebrating its 50th anniversary, the 2021 staging marks the 49th edition, as the event was not held in 1978 and 2020.