Key moments in the development of women's tennis
April 22, 1968
The Open Era of tennis begins at a tournament in Bournemouth, England, ending the sport’s “shamateur” system, in which amateur players were paid under the table to compete in tournaments. Thirty “open” tournaments were held the following season in 1969, including the four Grand Slams, which included pro players for the first time.
By early 1970 it was clear the Open Era had not worked out for women’s tennis players. The International Lawn Tennis Federation (today’s ITF) dropped 15 women’s tournaments from its schedule in 1970, while the USLTA organized no women’s events. And pay discrepancy between men and women continued to grow.
Sept. 23, 1970
After discussions at the U.S. Open, a group of women players decide to boycott the subsequent Pacific Southwest Championships and its 12:1 gender prize money discrepancy, instead organizing the Virginia Slims of Houston tournament. Nine players, now known as the Original 9, sign $1 contracts with Gladys Heldman to join what became the Virginia Slims tour.
Jan. 4, 1971
The Virginia Slims Circuit begins its inaugural season with the British Motorcars Invitational in San Francisco. Forty players signed on to play the 19-tournament tour.
Sept. 27, 1971
Billie Jean King beats Rosie Casals in the singles final of the Virginia Slims Thunderbird Classic in Arizona, becoming the first female athlete in history to earn $100,000 in a single season.
The Women’s Tennis Association is formed a week before Wimbledon, during a meeting of players at a London hotel organized by King. The current version of the WTA Tour came together in 1994.
Aug. 27, 1973
The U.S. Open became the first Grand Slam to offer equal prize money to men and women, with that year’s champions each receiving $25,000.
Sept. 20, 1973
King beats Bobby Riggs in “The Battle of the Sexes” exhibition match in the Houston Astrodome.
Nov. 26, 1984
The Australian Open offers equal prize money to men and women, though it stopped doing so for a five-year stretch in the late 1990s before resuming in 2001. The French Open follows in 2006; Wimbledon starts in 2007.
Jan. 18, 2018
The WTA announces a 10-year deal to hold the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China. The first WTA Finals in China in 2019 had a record $14 million prize pool. Ashleigh Barty claimed $3.5 million for winning the singles title.