Happy anniversary to the WTA! Let me start out by saying that I can’t take any credit for today’s title. Just Starting is actually the name of the campaign to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). Last December, the WTA shared the initial elements of its program to mark the milestone, including the Just Starting banner.
We’ve come a long way since June 21, 1973, when nine women led by Billie Jean King packed a conference room at the Gloucester Hotel in London on the eve of Wimbledon to voice their demands: stop sexism in tennis, break from the organization that controlled their destinies and achieve pay equity.
They each invested a dollar.
Money well spent.
In July 2021, in recognition of their achievement, the players were inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. More on that here.
This June, they’ll return to the Gloucester Hotel to mark their tour’s 50th anniversary. A flagship gala will also be held in New York ahead of the US Open in September.
In the meantime, the WTA 50 campaign is being integrated across the tour: on on-court signage, in broadcasting graphics at tournaments and other events and in promotional material in digital and social media.
As fans have likely noticed, the Just Starting campaign has indeed started. The photo at the very top of this page was taken just last week, on February 20, five days before the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
More from Paul Rivard.
A video series featuring archival footage and more than 150 interviews with WTA greats and other tennis experts is also available on various platforms.
Released on February 23, the first instalment is dedicated to Gladys Heldman, the trailblazing businesswoman who founded World Tennis Magazine in 1953 and helped promote women’s tennis in the 1950s and 60s. In 1970, she paved the way for what would be the Original 9 (which includes her daughter Julie, then World No.5) and built the foundations of the Virginia Slims Circuit that evolved into the WTA. Heldman passed away in 2003.
What started out as a tiny players’ union has matured into an association of high-profile athletes who, season after season, compete in more than 50 tournaments on 6 continents. In early 2023, a total of 32 countries were represented in the WTA Top 100, which has a fan base of more than 900 million.
“As professional athletes, we have a platform to inspire positive change in the world and use our influence for the better. The history of the past 50 years of women’s tennis is inspiring thanks to many players who decided to use their voice, too, when it wasn’t always easy. The impact we have now is bigger because of them. They deserve to celebrate this anniversary, and I’m happy I’ll be a part of it in 2023, together with fans and other current players,” commented WTA World No.1 Iga Swiatek.
And what about the National Bank Open?
The women’s edition of this year’s event will highlight the anniversary in its very own way. Tournament director Valérie Tétreault and her team have already dreamed up a number of ideas, so stay tuned.
Meanwhile, here’s a 60-second preview on the WTA’s website.
Pause at 0:44 and you’ll see Canadian hopefuls Kayla Cross, Annabelle Xu and Victoria Mboko.
SOME PAIN, NO GAIN
How will Veronika Kudermetova of Russia remember her doubles match on February 24 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships? Hopefully it won’t only be for the red mark on her cheek.
In the semis, Kudermetova and fellow Russian Liudmila Samsonova took on Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia and Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine. In a play you see so many times at so many tournaments, Ostapenko aimed her volley in her opponent’s direction—not to harm her but because it was the best option to seal the deal.
The many replays highlight two things.
First, the intense and fast-paced rally gives us an idea of how rapidly the ball is travelling and of the danger the optic yellow short-range projectile poses to anyone in its path.
Read more: Krejcikova stuns Swiatek in Dubai
Second, that reaction!
A player at the net will sometimes find their way to the ball, even with very little time to react. But in this particular case, Ostapenko chose to strike the ball to end the rally even if Kudermetova hadn’t hit it with her racquet, which automatically gave the point to her opponents.
100% reflex action.
The good news is that Veronika was OK and even smiled at Samsonova as she pressed a bag of ice to her face.
The even better news is that Kudermetova and Samsonova prevailed (7-5, 6-2), fought in the final the very next day and won that, too.
It was Veronika’ sixth doubles title and Liudmila’s very first. And a WTA 1000 crown to boot.