PREVIEW: WTA Finals, Day 1

It's been a while since the WTA Tour stopped in Hall of Famer Nancy Richey's home state of Texas, but it returns there in a big way this week, for the WTA Finals in Fort Worth.

Richey, who won two Grand Slam singles titles and four in doubles during the 1960s, won't be attending the event in person, but the 80-year-old will follow the eight competitors closely—especially the four in the Nancy Richey Group of round-robin competition.

Though she stopped playing tennis in her sixties, Richey keeps active five days of the week and is a regular tour viewer. Someone who's caught her eye this season is Jessica Pegula, who has climbed all the way to No. 3 in the rankings and just won her first WTA 1000 title Guadalajara.


“She's really come on. I was saying to Cliff [her brother and a former player] she's had injuries when she was young that would stop most players, and it's amazing to see the intensity she has, and the will, coming from that kind of money,” Richey told in an interview. Pegula is the daughter of Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres owners Kim and Terry Pegula.

“It would be interesting to know what kind of motivation she has, and why—why she stuck in there through all the injuries and surgeries.”

Richey has also enjoyed the rise of 18-year-old Coco Gauff. She says the teenager, now up to No. 4 in the rankings during season that included a runner-up finish at Roland Garros, is still gaining experience which will help her reach her potential.

“There's been so much pressure put on her, with everyone saying she's going to win so many majors and she's going to be the No. 1, Maybe she'll get to a point where she'll not let the expectations make her so nervous,” Richey says. “Her serving holds her in there, and she needs to get her forehand a little more stable.”

The tour's No. 1, Iga Swiatek, has dominated this season since Ash Barty retired holding the top spot after winning the Australian Open.

“I would like to have seen her and Barty play,” Richey says. “The women are interesting, because there's, except for Iga, not a dominant No. 1, 2, 3, and it makes for interesting watching."


The Hall of Famer Richey remains connected to the game and invested in its stars.

The Hall of Famer Richey remains connected to the game and invested in its stars.

While the sport has changed a lot since Richey played at the beginning of the professional circuit, the tour had a similarly dominant player then Margaret Court, while Richey she and Billie Jean King were another pair of Americans vying to reach the top of the game.

“When I started I didn't want to be No. 1—it just progressed,” says Richey, who won the 1967 Australian Open and 1968 French Open. “That was the goal, at that point, to win a major.

“In [66], I got to the finals [of the Australian Open, French Open and US Open]. So I knew I was capable of winning a major, and finally, I did.”

She fell to Court, who would end her career with 24 Grand Slam singles titles, in the final of the 1969 US Open.

“[Margaret] had everything. She was very sound on the ground, she could play from the backcourt, she was equally good at net. She had hardly any weaknesses you could exploit,” Richey says. “Her biggest weakness was mental. Physically, she was really unbelievable. In our era, she was the first to do weight-training. We looked at her like she was a freak, at the time. She had built up her right shoulder—it was unbelievable.”


Richey (fourth from left) was one of the Original Nine that pioneered the women's tour.

Richey (fourth from left) was one of the Original Nine that pioneered the women's tour.

Richey was also one of the 'Original Nine' pioneering female pros who led the way in creating what would turn into the WTA Tour. It was a time of a lot of big personalities, rivalries and camaraderie.

There are some elements of today's game Richey would like to have had when introduced to her when she picked up tennis—the only sport she played—at six.

“I hit the forehand very hard. I'd like to have had a two-hander on the backhand,“ she says. “It was definitely the tough side for me, [when] learning.“

There were some successful experiments with an abbreviated motion. (“My serving really improved when I did that,“ she says.)

Still, Richey isn't sure whether she would prefer today's richer yet more demanding competitive circuit.

“I'm glad I played when I did,“ she says—and in doing so, helped get the women's tour where it is today.