A group of women who fought for equality in tennis in 1970 have been honoured

A group of women who fought for equality in tennis in 1970 have been honoured

Original 9

Australian tennis legends Judy Tegart Dalton and Kerry Melville Reid have been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame with the ‘Original 9’, in recognition of their fight for gender equality in tennis.

Dalton and Reid are part of the ‘Original 9’, a group of nine former female tennis players who fought for women’s tennis in the 1970s. The group includes seven Americans, Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Julie Heldman, Billie Jean King, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, as well as the two Australians Dalton and Reid.

In 1970, the nine women had grown frustrated with the lack of opportunities for women in professional tennis and took the historic action of signing $1 contracts to compete in a new tournament, the Virginia Slims Invitational at the Houston Racquet Club. The event led to the start of the Virginia Slims Circuit in 1971, which later became the basis for the WTA Tour. By separating themselves from the tennis establishment, the group of women changed the course of professional tennis and paved the way for gender equality in the sport.

Judy Dalton (née Tegart), who attended the Hall of Fame ceremony held in the US virtually from Australia, said she didn’t realise how significant the work of the Original 9 would be, fifty years on.

“For us to be given this honour is really something special and I think it’s great recognition for what the Original 9 did,” Dalton said.

“We achieved recognition for women’s tennis, but also for women’s sport as a whole. We worked so hard but when we took such a big chance, we didn’t realize how significant it would be 50 years on.”

Kerry Reid (née Melville), who has lived in the US for years, was in attendance at the ceremony, said it meant a lot that “the Hall of Fame agreed to induct us as a group”.

“When we broke away from the men and started the women’s tour, we had a goal and we just worked really hard,” she said.

“Those early tournaments, we barely had time to even practice – we were doing so much PR, clinics, and everything else to try and promote each event. It took a lot of dedication, but I think we did a good job for women’s tennis and women in general, as it turned out.”

Reid gave a shout out to her fellow Australian, Dalton, in her speech at the Hall of Fame ceremony.

“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.”

Billie Jean King, considered to be the leader of the group, said female players today are living out the group’s dream.

“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 acceptance 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.”

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