On September 23, 1970, nine fearless women forever changed the landscape of professional tennis at the Houston Racquet Club. In signing $1 contracts with promoter Gladys Heldman, this unit of female players took a major stand against significant gender discrepancies in pay and opportunity by breaking away to control their own destiny.
Fifty years later to the week, destiny has brought Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Judy Tegart Dalton, Julie Heldman, Billie Jean King, Kristy Pigeon, Kerry Melville Reid, Nancy Richey and Valerie Ziegenfuss back to center stage for another landmark moment. The Original 9 are the first group to be up for election into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF) after being nominated in the 2021 Contributor Category, organizers announced Monday afternoon.
“Today’s players are living our dream,” said King, who was inducted as an individual player in 1987. “I was honored to stand with those eight women 50 years ago and am thrilled to see the Original 9 recognized by the International Tennis Hall of Fame today.”
In the Player Category, a pair of former ATP No. 1s are among the nominees who could find themselves in Newport, R.I. next summer. Two-time major singles champion Lleyton Hewitt, the youngest man to summit the top of the ATP rankings, joins 2003 French Open winner Juan Carlos Ferrero on the ballot.
In a decorated career that included more than 600 singles wins, Hewitt picked up 30 singles trophies, highlighted by triumphs at the 2001 US Open and 2002 Wimbledon. A proud Australian, the Adelaide native led his country to two Davis Cup crowns, won the 2000 US Open title alongside Max Mirnyi and added championship Sunday singles appearances at the 2004 US Open and 2005 Australian Open.
“I’m incredibly honored and grateful to receive this nomination. I had so many great Australians to look up to while I was coming up in the sport,” said Hewitt, who has captained Australia’s Davis Cup team since 2016. “To know that my career is up for consideration to be recognized alongside the likes of Hall of Famers Tony Roche, John Newcombe, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall, and so many other greats who I admired is just an amazing honor.”
A year after reaching the 2002 Roland Garros final, Ferrero avenged his defeat to Albert Costa before dismissing Martin Verkek to win his greatest title. Nicknamed “The Mosquito” for his marvelous court speed, the Spaniard’s banner 2003 season included a successful title defense in Monte Carlo, victory laps at home in Madrid and Valencia, and a runner-up finish to 2017 inductee Andy Roddick at the US Open—which ultimately propelled Ferrero to No. 1.
Compatriot Sergi Bruguera, winner of consecutive crowns at Roland Garros in 1993 and 1994, and Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman, holder of a career Grand Slam in doubles, are potential enshrinement candidates for the second successive year. The two are joined by first-time selection Lisa Raymond, who spent 137 weeks on top of the WTA doubles rankings. The American combined to claim 11 doubles majors and peaked at No. 15 in singles.
Illustrious coach Dennis Van der Meer, who died in July 2019, has been nominated posthumously. Van der Meer dedicated more than 65 years to the sport, pioneering universal teaching techniques and certification fundamentals that led to his founding of the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR). The sport’s first international teaching organization currently boasts over 16,000 certified members in more than 125 countries. The Contributor Category is considered every four years by the ITHF.
Once again, fans have an opportunity to be heard on which Player Category nominees merit tennis' highest honor by casting a vote online at vote.tennisfame.com from October 1 through October 25. The top-three Fan Vote recipients receive bonus percentage points on their Official Voting Group result.
To be elected, candidates must receive a vote of 75%, either directly through ballots submitted by the Official Voting Group—comprised of tennis journalists, historians, and Hall of Famers—or a combined total between ballot support and any bonus percentage points accrued in the Fan Vote.
Inductees will be announced early next year, with the ceremony set to take place on July 17, 2021. Those selected will join the 2020 class, Goran Ivanisevic and Conchita Martinez, in Rhode Island following the cancellation of this year’s event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.