Billie Jean King and her group of eight other renegades were revolutionary by 1970s standards. A full two years ahead of the passage of Title IX in the United States, they envisioned a better future for women's tennis.
In September 1970, the birth of women's professional tennis was launched when nine players signed $1 contracts with World Tennis publisher Gladys Heldman to compete in a new women's tour. The Original 9, as they were called, included Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Kerry Melville, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Judy Dalton, Valerie Ziegenfuss and Julie Heldman.
Heldman, along with her friend Joe Cullman from Philip Morris and several others, provided women's professional tennis the opportunity the Original 9 and so many others sought. The inaugural $7,500 Virginia Slims of Houston was established on September 23, 1970 and it was the event that became the groundbreaker for all others.
1971 ï¿½ The Virginia Slims Circuit debuted with 19 tournaments, with a total purse of $309,100 on offer in the United States and Billie Jean King became the first female athlete to cross the six-figure mark in season earnings
1973 ï¿½ Billie Jean King founded the Women's Tennis Association, uniting all of women's professional tennis in one tour. The WTA was borne out of a meeting held in a room at the Gloucester Hotel in London the week before Wimbledon; the US Open, for the first time, offered equal prize money to the men and women.
1974 - The WTA signed the first television broadcast contract in the history of the Association (with CBS).
1975 ï¿½ The Virginia Slims Circuit was streamlined to an 11-week Tour of the US, concluding at the end of March
1976 ï¿½ Colgate assumed sponsorship of the Tour events from April to November for four years; at the Palm Springs event, Chris Evert became the first female athlete to cross $1 million in career earnings
1977 ï¿½ New York hosted the season-ending Championships for the first time
1979 ï¿½ Avon, replacing Virginia Slims as winter circuit sponsor, offered a record $100,000 to the winner of the season-ending Avon Championship
1980 ï¿½ By now over 250 women were playing professionally all over the world in a Tour consisting of 47 global events, offering a total $7.2 million in prize money
1982 ï¿½ Navratilova became the first woman to earn over $1 million in a season
1983 ï¿½ Virginia Slims returned, replacing Avon and Toyota to sponsor the first unified Circuit of more than $10 million
1984 ï¿½ Navratilova received a $1-million bonus from the ITF for winning Roland Garros and thus holding all four Grand Slam singles crowns at the same time, having won Wimbledon and the US and Australian Opens in 1983 (Steffi Graf would later do so in 1988 and 1993-94); Navratilova crossed the $2-million mark in season earnings, more than men's No.1 John McEnroe; the Australian Open joined the US Open in offering the women's event equal prize money (temporarily did not between 1996-2000)
1986 ï¿½ Navratilova passed $10 million in career earnings by winning the US Indoors
1988 ï¿½ Graf became the second woman in the Open Era to complete a calendar year Grand Slam, and made it a 'Golden Grand Slam' by winning the Olympic title in Seoul
1990 ï¿½ Another Philip Morris company, Kraft General Foods, replaced Slims after 15 years of loyal sponsorship; the Tour's prize purse increased to $23 million and concluded the season at Madison Square Garden, in New York, with the first-ever $1-million tournament in women's sports; Navratilova won a record ninth Wimbledon singles title
1991 ï¿½ Monica Seles became only the second player to pass the $2-million mark in season earnings and would better men's leader Stefan Edberg in '91 and '92
1995 ï¿½ The WTA Players Association merged with the Women's Tennis Council to form the WTA Tour, and after Monica Seles' inspiring return to the sport in the summer, the Corel software corporation came on as title sponsor at the end of the year; prize money of the season-ending Championships doubled to $2 million
1997 ï¿½ On March 30, Hingis became the fastest player ever to win $1 million in a season and a day later became the youngest-ever world No. 1, ending Graf's record reign (for men and women) of 377 total weeks
1998 ï¿½ By winning Leipzig, Graf eclipsed Navratilova's all-time prize money record
1999 ï¿½ After 17 years, Graf retired from the Tour with 22 Grand Slam singles titles and a record $21,895,277 in career earnings
2000 ï¿½ Sanex bodycare products came on board as the Tour's title sponsor for three years; after 22 consecutive years, Madison Square Garden hosted its last season-ending Championships
2001 ï¿½ The Australian Open returned to equal prize money and overall Tour prize money increased to $50 million in 63 events, including the first-ever Middle Eastern Tour events in Doha, Qatar and Dubai, UAE; Munich hosted the season-ending Championships; Jennifer Capriati capped a fairytale return to the sport by winning her first two career Grand Slam titles and rising to No.1 in October
2002 ï¿½ The Williams sisters fulfilled
their father's prophecy by becoming the No.1 players in the world, first Venus
in February, then Serena in July. Serena won three majors, defeating her older
sister in each final; Los Angeles hosted the season-ending Championships for
the first time since 1976
2003 ï¿½ Porsche became North American
Promotional Sponsor of the WTA Tour; new Licensing deals with Lotto (apparel)
and Luxilon (stringing) were announced, as was the extension of the Tour's
television deal with Eurosport/Regency through 2007; the "Get In Touch With Your Feminine Side" marketing campaign was launched, the Tour's most significant branding effort in its history; Serena Williams won the Australian Open to complete the "Serena Slam" while Kim Clijsters became the first female athlete to earn $4 million in season earnings
2004 ï¿½ Dubai Duty Free became Presenting Sponsor of the Middle East/Asia-Pacific region, while Whirlpool came on board as European Premier Sponsor; the second phase of the Tour's highly successful "Get In Touch" ad campaign was unveiled with some help by Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson, a member of the newly-formed WTA Tour Global Advisory Council
2005 - Sony Ericsson became the Tour's worldwide title sponsor in a landmark $88-million, six-year deal, the largest and most comprehensive sponsorship in the history of tennis and of women's professional sport. As winner of the US Open Series, Kim Clijsters earns double prize money for winning the US Open; her $2.2 million prize cheque was the single biggest payday in women's sports and in any official tennis event, men's or women's; on the court it was the year of the comeback, with the Belgians Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne and the Williams sisters winning the four majors and Amelie Mauresmo breaking through to win the Season-Ending Championships
2006 - Worldwide title sponsor
Sony Ericsson unveiled several game-changing innovations designed to make the
sport more fan-friendly and interactive (such as electronic line-calling and
on-court coaching); a landmark partnership with USANA Health Sciences, a worldwide
leader in science-based nutritional products, was announced, along with Travelex
and the extension of the Tour's partnership with Eurosport/Regency into 2011,
becoming the largest TV deal in the history of women's tennis; European Premier
Sponsor Whirlpool also extended its agreement for three years; Martina Navratilova
said farewell to the Tour after winning the US Open mixed doubles title, ending
a 32-year career in which she amassed more titles than any other female or
male player; a global partnership with UNESCO was announced to advance gender
equality and promote women's leadership in society; Mauresmo, Henin-Hardenne
and Sharapova claimed the year's majors as all three battled for the year-end
No.1 ranking, which finally went to Henin-Hardenne.