The creation of the WTA
In June 1973, a few weeks before Wimbledon, 70 women’s tennis players met in a room at London’s Gloucester Hotel. 1970 Singles World No.3 Rosemary Casals, aka Rosie, was there. Their male counterparts created the ATP a year before, and they decided to change their own fate too. “We needed a structure to allow all players to benefit from the development of women’s tennis,” said Casals in a US Tennis Association interview in 2022. “At the beginning of the meeting, Billie said:
"Until we have an association of players, we're not getting out of here."
She is talking about Billie Jean King, who would win Wimbledon later that year. A pioneer of women’s tennis, she was sick of being left with the crumbs from the men’s tennis’s table. French player Françoise Dürr, who won the 1967 French Open, was there too. King became the leader of a whole generation of players that day. “Billie asked Betty Stöve, who was the tallest, to stand in front of the door so no one could disturb us,” she said in French newspaper L’Équipe in 2020. “In just two hours, we’d set up the WTA.” It marked the end of a three-year-long team fight.
Though the Open era started in 1968, professional women’s tennis was still largely discredited by tournament hosts. “The women were being squeezed financially because we had no control in a male-dominated sport,” said Billie Jean King in We Have Come a Long Way, the book she wrote in 1988. “Men owned, ran and promoted the tournaments, and because many of them were former players themselves, their sympathies lay with the male players, who argued vociferously that most of the money should be theirs.” Prize money was indeed five to ten times bigger for men. This unacceptable situation led the King-Casals duo to Gladys Heldman’s office in the summer of 1970. Heldman was the head of the World Tennis magazine and was a hugely influential tennis figure.
"We told her that we were considering not playing the tournament, out of protest."
"It was a pivotal year for tennis and for women in general. I just remember being exhausted all the time. As I've said before, when I sleep in now, I'm still catching up from the 1970s."