While there is still a long way to go, there is no denying that women have made great strides towards equality within the sport of tennis. Of course, the turning point towards equality was the iconic moment when the ‘Original 9’ signed the one-dollar contracts with World Tennis publisher Gladys Heldman to compete in the Virginia Slims Invitational.
Among these ‘Original 9’ women was Judy Dalton of Australia, who won nine Grand Slam doubles titles over the course of her career. Famously, Dalton won at least one doubles title at each Grand Slam tournament, otherwise known as a Career Grand Slam.
Despite the vast amount of success Dalton experienced on the court, her legacy will live on more so due to her fight for equal rights for women in the sport. With the success of the Virginia Slims Invitational, similar tournaments began to appear, ultimately elevating the prize money for women and the formation of the WTA.
According to Dalton, the tipping point that caused the ‘Original 9’ to sign the one-dollar contracts was the monumental difference in prize money for men and women at the Los Angeles Pacific Coast tournament.
“The men’s prize money was eight-times that of the women’s, despite the fact that there would have been seven of the top women in the world competing,” Dalton recalled. “Gladys Heldman tried to talk to Jack Kramer, but he wouldn’t budge, so we decided that we would seek the opinion of the public at the US Open as to whether they would attend women only tournaments. Surprisingly, it was a quite high percentage, so our minds were made up to do something about it.”
Despite threats that they would be banned if they were to compete at the Virginia Slims Invitational, the ‘Original 9’ pressed on. “It was a very difficult time as the threat of not being allowed to play in the Grand Slams and other tournaments was what faced us,” said Dalton “However we were all committed to finding equality in the prize money and to be able to make a decent living openly, not with under the table payments.”
Looking back years later, Dalton feels pride to have been a part of the ‘Orginial 9.’ “To be part of the legacy of the Original 9 makes me very proud as we have achieved what we set out to do. I have to say I never thought it would be such a success and that the prize money would be so huge,” she said.
However, while Dalton believes there are a number of forward-thinking leaders within the sport who have fought to make gender equality the norm, she still believes there is work to be done.
“The attitude of the men who are on national associations, boards and tennis clubs has to change and accept that women and girls do have an important role to play in all aspects, no matter whether it is in business, sport or their own households,” said Dalton. “Both genders should be able to work closely together and each have something to give that will be beneficial to everyone.”
This is the mentality Dalton has been attempting to instill within all members of the tennis community over the years. For her efforts in the fight for gender equality in tennis, she was honored as a Member of the Order of Australia.
“Being awarded a Member of the Order of Australia makes me very proud, and I feel very honored as well,” Dalton explained. “It is a very nice thank you for the work I have done over the years. I have loved every bit of my tennis life and being able to help the younger generation. I feel that having got so much from the sport, you should always give something back. The players today must learn that, not to just take, but to give.”
Moving forward, Dalton strives to impress the importance of giving back to the sport to the up-and-coming talent. “Players today must give back to the sport that has given them a living and a chance to achieve their dream,” she said.
For young girls looking to make a name for themselves in the sport, Dalton offers this advice – “Work hard, don’t leave anything unattended to in the way of training. Surround yourself with people who are about you as a person and will do the best for you, not for themselves.”