For more on the WTA's Original 9, read our write-ups on each of tennis' trailblazing women.
Ridiculous. Unbelievable. Untenable.
Those three words summed up Nancy Richey’s reaction upon realizing a pro tennis tournament in Los Angeles, run by Jack Kramer, offered a $12,000 purse to male players to just $1,200 to its women’s entrants. The year was 1970, and Richey was an esteemed competitor with major singles titles at the 1967 Australian Open and 1968 Roland Garros.
By then, large prize money gaps between genders was the norm at tournaments. But what followed the latest injustice in Los Angeles for Richey was a phone call with her father George, a beloved tennis instructor. At his suggestion, Richey reached out to Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals proposing a meeting with Gladys Heldman, owner and publisher of World Tennis magazine. The trio would meet with the well-connected businesswoman at the 1970 US Open—a day that would lead them down the ultimate path of self-empowerment.
“We figured if anybody could help us, it would be Gladys,” Richey told Tennis Channel. “Her daughter was a top player in the world and figured she was wanting to do maybe something where Julie Heldman had a place to play; an opportunity. So we had lunch with Gladys. She ended up getting a tournament within three weeks at the Houston Racquet Club with Virginia Slims.”
Less than three weeks later, Richey, King and Casals combined to create one third of their sport’s Original 9 when Heldman’s creative thinking led a group of women to become contract pros. Each signed on the dotted line for $1 to take part in the revolutionary event, and the iconic image commemorating the moment was appropriately snapped by a proactive female photographer.
“It was funny. Everyone was looking over [one] way because there was several photographers over there,” Richey recounted. “There was one lone women photographer and she yelled out. ‘look over here!’ Well I kind of turned and looked over, and that’s the photo that became the big photo.”
Richey would go on to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame as a player in 2003. On Monday, it was announced she and the rest of her trailblazers received the first group nomination in history after the Original 9 landed on the 2021 ballot in the Contributor Category.
“There was no place to play, there was no money, so it was worth taking the chance.”
It certainly was, and then some. Bonne chance in Newport!