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Original 9, Judy Dalton: survey proved male interest in women's tennis
“They said they could associate their game with us. And they would come to watch. That was really encouraging,” reflected the nine-time major doubles champion.
Published Sep 19, 2020
For more on the WTA's Original 9, read our write-ups on each of tennis' trailblazing women.
“I just think it’s so wonderful to go and see how many women’s tournaments there and how many opportunities women have to make a really good living now. Whereas, before it was a real struggle for us.”
Judy (Tegart) Dalton is the first to admit she never anticipated women’s tennis coming as far as it has today, particularly with equal prize money at the Grand Slam events. During the 1960s, the concept that women could be tennis players was one people often struggled to grasp, leading to a lack of respect among the wider community.
“For instance in Australia, the Australian men were all doing well and so were we, but we didn’t get any recognition whatsoever,” Dalton told Tennis Channel. “I don’t think we did in the states either. We would go to places and people would know who Billie Jean was, but I don’t think they knew that women played tennis.”
In a time that required players to write letters in order to enter tournaments abroad, often taking months for a reply to be returned, women were paid "under the table" to cover costs. With virtually no prize money to play for, Dalton relied on her accounting background to survive the barriers in front of her.
“I was in a firm where they had shares. I’d buy maybe 100 and when they floated, I’d sell off 50 and put that aside, so that’s how I paid for my first airfare,” Dalton explained. “I got [an] around the world ticket with all the other bits and bobs. I think in those days it was around $3,500, which was a lot of money when you think about it in those days.”
By the 1970 season, more women began finding their voice with the substantial disparity in equality. They went straight to the people at Forest Hills, designing a questionnaire to find out if club players would show up for women’s tennis. Dalton recalled that 46 percent responded yes, and when she and her peers inquired why, learned the male audience found the women's game more relatable than the men's.
“They said they could associate their game with us. And they would come to watch. That was really encouraging,” reflected Dalton, who was forbidden to accept prize money by her national association when she advanced to the 1968 Wimbledon singles final at the start of the Open Era. “In a way I think that really cemented the thought that we could go ahead, that maybe we could succeed.”
Dalton and eight other women, the Original 9, would do just that. On September 23, 1970, they signed $1 contracts with Gladys Heldman to participate in the first Virginia Slims Invitational, and the rest is history. Dalton reached the final at the landmark event in Houston, falling to Rosie Casals in three sets.
"It was quite difficult actually, the thought that we might never play in any Grand Slams again," said Dalton, a nine-time major doubles champion. "We took a huge chance I must say."