Hours after six members of the Original 9 took part in the coin toss ceremony for a truly historic US Open final, the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s Legends Ball paid tribute to the trailblazers – while also remembering Gladys Heldman, the woman who created the business framework for women’s professional tennis.
Held annually, the Legends Ball is an important fundraiser for the International Tennis Hall of Fame, in support of the organization’s work to preserve and celebrate tennis history and inspire a new legion of players and fans. The Original 9 were the focus of this year’s gala, following their induction into the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021 in Newport, Rhode Island, in July.
The iconic group, which stunned the tennis establishment when they signed $1 contracts with Heldman to start a women’s circuit, comprises Americans Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Julie Heldman, Peaches Bartkowicz and Nancy Richey, and Australians Kerry Melville Reid and Judy Tegart Dalton.
Together, they faced being banned from Grand Slam tournaments, among other sanctions, when they took a stand against the gender pay gap and other inequities that existed in tennis in the early 70s.
Speaking during a Q&A session on stage, Billie Jean King reflected: “We weren’t sure what would happen, but we were willing to give up everything for the future generations. And when you see Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez on the court today, you know it was all worth it.”
Hall of Famer Pam Shriver led the room of distinguished guests in a toast: “The word original also means distinctive, and you are both original and distinctive in what you accomplished and what you did – not just for women's tennis, but for tennis.”
The presentation of the Eugene L. Scott Award posthumously to Gladys Heldman was a poignant highlight of the evening. This award is presented to an individual who embodies the namesake’s efforts to challenge tennis authority and encourage inclusive growth in the game, and who had a significant impact on the tennis world.
Original 9 member Julie Heldman accepted the award on her late mother’s behalf.
“My mother was brilliant, creative and extremely hardworking,” she said. “When she sold her magazine in 1972, she liked to say that she was replaced by seven men.
“As a member of the Original 9, I can attest that we risked our careers in part, because we had faith that mom was in charge. She was the entrepreneur who set the groundwork for today's well-established WTA Tour. No one could deserve the Gene Scott Award more than Gladys. I thank you so much for bestowing this honor on my mother.”
The Legends Ball punctuated a heady couple of days for the Original 9. Between Thursday’s women’s semifinals, six members of the group – Dalton, Pigeon and Richey were unable to make the trip – were presented with Hall of Fame commemorative rings on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The rings were presented by Hall of Fame President Stan Smith and CEO Todd Martin, along with USTA representatives Mike McNulty, chairman of the board and president, and Stacey Allaster, chief executive of women’s tennis and the US Open’s first woman tournament director.
“It’s great to be back and to see what 50 years has brought to women’s tennis. It’s been a terrific journey with these Original 9. They were all so brave, and I’m proud to be part of it,” Casals said.
King added: “There were three reasons that we wanted to do what we did. Number one, that any girl born in this world would have a place to compete. Number two, that we would be appreciated for our accomplishments, not only our looks. And, number three, that we would finally be able to make a living playing the sport that we were passionate about.”