Original 9 heads 2021 class at International Tennis Hall

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NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — A group of trailblazing women known as the “Original 9” now officially have a place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

The nine teamed with Philip Morris’ Virginia Slims cigarette brand to launch the tour in the early 1970s and bring more prize money to the women’s game.

On Saturday night, that grassroots action led to their enshrinement on the grass courts of the Hall as part of the class of 2021.

They joined a class that included former Australian star Lleyton Hewitt from the player category and Dennis Van der Meer, who was inducted posthumously, as a contributor.

“We wanted any girl in the world, if she was good enough, to have a place to compete,” Billie Jean King told the crowd with fog rolling around.

“To be recognized for their accomplishments — not just their looks — and most of all to be able to make a living playing professional tennis,” she said.

Hewitt was unable to attend because of travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is expected to be honored, in-person, next year.

The Original 9 each signed $1 contracts to start the tour of their own.

King, then 26-years-old, led the charge along with Rosie Casals, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Jane “Peaches” Bartkowicz, Kerry Melville Reid, Julie Heldman, Nancy Richey (class of ’03), Kristy Pigeon and Judy Tegart Dalton.

“History wasn’t on our side, but I think we made a lot of things happen,” Casals said.

Also, the Hall inducted its class of 2020: Croatia’s Goran Ivanišević and Spaniard Conchita Martínez. Last year’s enshrinement was postponed due to the pandemic.

“I started doubting it a little bit as years went by. I think this was my last chance to get inducted,” Martínez said. “I was nominated many, many years ago. I’m very, very grateful to be inducted.”

Martínez, the 1994 Wimbledon champion, won 33 singles titles and 13 doubles in her 15-year career.

Ivanišević, the 2001 Wimbledon champ, was also a finalist on London’s grass courts three times. The year he won, he entered ranked 125th in the world.

“I can’t compare this to anything,” he said. “This is the biggest, everything you work for, every match, every disappointment, every tear, every loss is coming today.”

First published on: AP

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