Women’s tennis has indeed
come a long way, baby
For most of the decade, Serena Williams and her
sister, Venus, have dominated women’s tennis, which
has charted a remarkable history since its beginnings
in 1970. That history has been marked by strong-willed female athletes with intriguing personalities
and a sense of the dramatic, a tradition that Serena
“Women’s tennis has always been blessed with
tremendous personalities—strong, accomplished
women,” says Larry Scott, CEO of the Sony Ericsson
WTA Tour. “They transcend the sport and have
allowed it to compete on the same level as men’s
tennis. Serena is very much a part of that appeal.”
and wins the Olympic title in
Seoul the same year.
1995 The WTA Players
Association merges with the
Women’s Tennis Council to form
the WTA Tour.
1998 Venus and Serena
Williams sweep the mixed
doubles Grand Slams.
1970 Billie Jean King and
eight other players sign $1 contracts with World Tennis publisher
Gladys Heldman to compete in a
women’s tour. The first Virginia
Slims of Houston tournament
launches on Sept. 23.
1971 The Virginia Slims
Circuit debuts with 19 tournaments and more than $300,000
in purse earnings. King becomes the first female athlete
to earn more than $100,000 in
Billie Jean King
1999 Graf retires with 22
Grand Slam singles titles and
nearly $22 million in earnings.
1973 King launches the
Women’s Tennis Association.
“Be bold,” King has been
known to say. “If you’re going
to make an error, make a
doozy.” Fortunately for her
and for women’s tennis, the
WTA isn’t an error. In fact, in
this same year the U.S. Open
offers women and men equal
prize money for the first time.
1980 More than 250
women compete in 47 WTA
events worldwide, earning
1984 Martina Navratilova
holds all four Grand Slam titles
at once and surpasses $2 million in season earnings—more
than the top men’s player, John
McEnroe. Evert becomes the
first player to win 1 ,000 singles
matches in the same year.
2002 Venus and Serena
become the No. 1 women’s tennis players in the world—Venus
in February and Serena in July.
Serena wins three Slam events,
beating Venus in the finals each
time. At the U.S. Open, Serena
also draws attention by wearing
her famous black catsuit. “I had
no idea it would cause that
much hoopla,” Williams says. “I
was actually nervous about it. I
was looking at what to wear beforehand and asking people in
the locker, ‘Should I wear this?,’
holding up the catsuit. And then
I just decided to go for it.”
2003 Serena wins the
Australian Open, again facing
her sister in the finals, to complete a “Serena Slam.” They
become the only siblings in history to face each other in Grand
2005 Sony Ericsson becomes the tour’s worldwide
sponsor with an $88 million,
six-year deal, the largest ever
in women’s sports. Serena
responds to allegations of a
lack of dedication to tennis by
winning her seventh Slam, the
Australian, defeating three of
the top four seeds.
1974 The WTA signs its first
TV contract with CBS.
1976 Chris Evert becomes
the first female athlete to make
$1 million in a career.
1986 Navratilova exceeds
$10 million in career earnings.
1988 Steffi Graf becomes
the second woman to hold all
four Grand Slam titles at once,
2007 Serena, unseeded,
again wins the Australian,
earning a remarkable career
comeback in which her world
ranking climbs from 81st to
14th. The Sony Ericsson WTA
Tour now represents more than
1,400 players and $62 million
in prize money in 62 events
in 35 countries. Wimbledon
announces it will pay women
the same prize money as men,
ending a 123-year tradition of
paying men more.