In a playing career that spanned the final years of the amateur era, the inception of Open Tennis in 1968, the birth of women’s professional tennis in 1970 and the formation of the WTA in 1973, Julie Heldman reached three Grand Slam semifinals, won 22 singles titles including the Italian Open, and was a member of two victorious Fed Cup teams. She also struggled mightily with her own mental health and her complicated relationship with her formidable mother, Gladys Heldman.
Gladys was, of course, the influential publisher of World Tennis magazine who responded to the growing gender pay gap in tennis by signing what became iconic $1 contracts with nine top players to compete at her Virginia Slims Invitational in Houston in September 1970. On the back of that success, she masterminded the first fully-fledged women’s circuit in 1971 – unleashing a chain of events that eventually resulted in the formation of the WTA by Billie Jean King in 1973.
But while Gladys would be recognized as one of the sport’s truly visionary promoters – she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1979 – Julie Heldman, who signed up for the Original 9, has spent a lifetime getting to grips with her own rollercoaster journey. Her new book, Driven: A Daughter’s Odyssey, reveals an awkward and uncertain young girl who gradually found solace, purpose and even redemption through the sport of tennis.
Heldman, a Stanford graduate, saw her racquet as a passport to travel and actively engaged in the world around her. Her writing paints a vivid picture of life on the circuit in the 1960s and 1970s, a colorful but politically fraught time in tennis and wider society.
Along with King her cast of characters – rivals and friends – includes Margaret Court, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Chris Evert, Evonne Goolagong, Martina Navratilova and Ingrid Bentzer, among others. While the sense of camaraderie was undoubtedly strong, the nascent tour was not without its tensions, and Heldman offers fascinating insights into the personal dynamics that played out on the sidelines of the sporting action. She also puts the nature of her own competitive drive and perfectionism under the microscope.
Driven: A Daughter’s Odyssey has drawn plaudits from some of the tennis world’s most esteemed commentators, including Hall of Fame journalist Steve Flink:
“This lyrical book is beautifully written with style, elegance and clarity by Julie Heldman. I found her story riveting, evocative and profoundly insightful. The book kept me up late at night; I could not put it down no matter how hard I tried. It is primarily the story of the relationship between Julie and her brilliant yet complicated mother Gladys. We read about their trials and tribulations, their triumphs and failures, and Julie’s painful and elusive lifelong quest to connect with a parent who was, ultimately, unavailable. The author is a woman of courage, candor and unmistakable sensitivity. I unequivocally urge you to read her book, which is for people of all ages and backgrounds.”
Peaches Bartkowicz, a fellow member of the Original 9, commented: “As a friend, doubles partner, and teammate of Julie Heldman, I thought I knew so much about her. But once I started reading some of the chapters of her book, I became amazed at how much I was learning about her, and how much of her inner turmoil she had previously kept hidden. As I consumed each new batch of chapters, I kept craving more. Thank you, Julie, for sharing your remarkable journey. Your book touched me on so many levels. Whether or not you’re a tennis player, you will surely be captivated by Julie’s path through life.”