NEW YORK -- The past, present and future of women's tennis gathered together at the Ziegfeld Ballroom on Friday night to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Hologic WTA Tour.
Led by emcee Chris McKendry, the night was filled with music and nostalgic walks down memory lane. As Broadway star Bre Jackson belted a rendition of "The Room Where It Happens" from "Hamilton", 14 of the founding members who signed up to form the WTA Tour at the Gloucester Hotel in 1973 were welcomed onto the stage to a rousing standing ovation.
"I'm inspired by every single player who has built on this vision that brought us together in 1973," Billie Jean King said, "and the players of today and tomorrow take the WTA into a future that continues to give women the opportunity to compete on a worldwide stage, be recognized and, most importantly, be paid equally."
Led by Billie Jean King, the group included Virginia Wade, Betty Stove, Rosie Casals, Ingrid Löfdahl Bentzer, Kerry Melville‐Reid, Trish Bostrom, Peggy Michel, Janet Newberry, Cynthia Doerner, Laura Rossouw, Raquel Giscafre, Ilana Kloss, and Valerie Ziegenfuss.
"Being here tonight is an honor," Coco Gauff said in her speech. "It feels like I've walked into a women's tennis history book that has come to life. The WTA history that we all celebrate is about a tour founded by women who were unafraid and carried on by women who are empowered by the legacy that we work every day to build upon."
Paying tribute to her grandmother's emphasis on the importance of education, Gauff encouraged current and future players to learn the tour's history to understand the context of the platform they are now afforded.
"Because Billie Jean King and Venus Williams used their superpowers to fight for pay equality, we are closer to a sports world that respects and rewards men and women equally," Gauff said. "In Serena Williams, I watched someone dominate women's tennis in a way no one else ever had. More importantly, I saw someone who looked like me and helped me believe I could achieve as I followed my own unique path.
"These women and so many others were trailblazers who have given every generation after them the opportunity and inspiration to find our voices and the global platform to speak out about issues that matter to us."
After rollicking Q&A sessions with Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, and Gabriela Sabatini and speeches from WTA CEO Steve Simon, WTA President Micky Lawler, and Tournament Director Bob Moran, the night ended with an appearance by Tatjana Maria's 10-year-old daughter, Charlotte.
"Thank you, Billie Jean, for everything you do and all the players, including my mom, who inspire me," she said onstage before getting a hug from King. "My dream to be the next WTA player is just starting."