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|Location||St. Petersburg, Florida|
The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) is the principal organizing body of women's professional tennis. It governs the WTA Tour which is the worldwide professional tennis tour for women and was founded to create a better future for women's tennis. The WTA's corporate headquarters is in St. Petersburg, Florida, with its European headquarters in London and its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Beijing.
The Women's Tennis Association was founded in June 1973 by Billie Jean King, and traces its origins to the inaugural Virginia Slims tournament, arranged by Gladys Heldman, sponsored by Joe Cullman, CEO of Philip Morris, and held on 23 September 1970 at the Houston Racquet Club in Houston, Texas. Rosie Casals won this first event.
When the Women's Tennis Association was founded, Billie Jean King was one of nine players that comprised the WTA, also referred to as the Original 9, that included Julie Heldman, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Judy Dalton, Kristy Pigeon, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kerry Melville Reid, Nancy Richey, and Rosie Casals. Today, the WTA has more than 2,500 players from nearly 100 countries competing for $146 million in prize money.
The Open Era, in which professional players were allowed to compete alongside amateurs, began in 1968. Billie Jean King was a high ranking tennis player in the late 1960s who won several titles and was interviewed in the media. The first Open Tournament was the British Hard Court Championships in Bournemouth. At the first Open Wimbledon, the prize fund difference was 2.5:1 in favor of men. King won £750 for taking the title, while Rod Laver won £2,000. The total purses of both competitions were £14,800 for men and £5,680 for women. Confusion also reigned as no one knew how many Open Tournaments there were supposed to be. The tournaments that did not want to provide prize money eventually faded out of the calendar, including the US Eastern Grass Court circuit with stops at Merion Cricket Club and Essex county club.
There were two professional tennis circuits in existence at the start of the Open Era: World Championship Tennis (WCT), which was for men only, and the National Tennis League (NTL). Ann Jones, Rosie Casals, Françoise Dürr, and Billie Jean King joined NTL. King was paid $40,000 a year, Jones was paid $25,000, and Casals and Durr were paid $20,000 each. The group played established tournaments, such as the US Open and Wimbledon. But the group also organised their own tournaments, playing in the South of France for two months. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) then imposed several sanctions on the group: the women were not allowed to play in the Wightman Cup in 1968 and 1969 and the USLTA refused to include Casals and King in their rankings for those years.
By the 1970s the pay differential had increased. King said "Promoters were making more money than women. Male tennis players were making more money. Everybody was making more money except the women". In 1969, ratios of 5:1 in terms of pay between men and women were common at smaller tournaments. By 1970 these figures had increased to up to 12:1.
It was the determination of Billie Jean King to fight for equal rights for women. She wanted to provide a tour where any girl from any nationality would have an opportunity to play. Not only could they play but they would be compensated. The tennis court became the battle ground for Billie to push for equal rights. "When Billie Jean King won the Italian Open in 1970, her prize was $600. Her male counterpart, Ilie Nastase, was awarded $3,500, nearly six times that. In 1970 Margaret Court won the Grand Slam and received only a $15,000 bonus, whereas the men could achieve up to $1 million. Indeed, as the '70s got underway, the pay gap between men and women in tennis began to widen considerably. As King and Cynthia Starr wrote in their book, "We Have Come a Long Way," in 1988, "The women were being squeezed financially because we had no control in a male-dominated sport. Men owned, ran and promoted the tournaments, and because many of them were former players themselves, their sympathies lay with the male players, who argued vociferously that most of the money should be theirs." The low point in women's pay inequality came before the US Open in 1970. The Pacific Southwest Championships directed by Jack Kramer, had announced a 12:1 ratio in the prize money difference between what males and females would win.
This tournament provoked the top 9 woman tennis players to take a stand for equality. "These woman became known as the Original 9". They did not play in the Los Angeles tournament and instead wanted to create their own tennis tournament.
Several female players contacted Gladys Heldman, publisher of World Tennis Magazine, and stated that they wanted to boycott the event. Although Heldman advised against it, she did help them put together their own tournament in Houston which would not take place until after the US Open. The 1970 Houston Women's Invitation for nine women players was formed. Heldman was friends with Joseph Cullman, CEO and chairman of Phillip Morris, who secured the new tournament. The tournament was a success and the women found footing, "so, at the bidding of the Original 9, Heldman - who had secured backing from Philip Morris's Virginia Slims cigarette brand for her Houston Invitational - went back to her friend, Philip Morris chairman Joe Cullman III, to see if the company would support a circuit of some kind. Delighted by the publicity splash from Houston, Cullman was only too keen to give the women what they needed: financial backing, to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars, and the Virginia Slims name as title sponsor for a circuit in 1971."
The International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) began dropping several women's competitions from the tournaments it presided over. For example, in 1970, the ILTF sanctioned 15 men-only tournaments, all of which had previously been combined events. The Virginia Slims Circuit, which would later absorb the ILTF's Women's Grand Prix circuit, and eventually become the WTA Tour. The circuit was composed of 19 tournaments, all based in the United States (one in Puerto Rico), and prize money totalled $309,100.
In 1973 the US Open tennis tournament awarded the same prize money for women as the men but not until 2001 did another grand slam tournament follow the lead. The Australian Open in 2001, The French Open in 2006 and Wimbledon Championships in 2007 finally sought equal prize money.
The momentum that began in the 70's blossomed into the '80s. By solidifying television contracts to broadcast tournaments allowed tennis to come into everyone's home. You didn't need a ticket to see the spectacle of players that represented countries around the global. The sport became increasingly more popular as coverage spread. "The '80s energized the popularity base, taking tennis out of country clubs and landed estates into public parks and arenas. It became a sport, in contrast to an amenable pastime."
"From those first steps in Houston in 1970 to the current WTA Tour, with tournaments in 33 countries and total prize money of $139 million (in 2018); from a prize pot 10 times lower than the men at the Grand Slams in 1970 to parity in 2007 and ever since, women's tennis has become (almost) the equal of its male counterpart. And they did it themselves, which also explains why their governance is still independent today."
The WTA was founded at a meeting organised by Billie Jean King, a week before the 1973 Wimbledon Championships. This meeting was held at Gloucester Hotel in London. In 1975, the WTA increased its financial stature by signing a television broadcast contract with CBS, the first in the WTA's history. Further financial developments ensued. In 1976, Colgate assumed sponsorship of the circuit from April to November. In 1979, Avon replaced Virginia Slims as the sponsor of the winter circuit, and in its first year offered the largest prize fund for a single tournament, $100,000 for the Avon Championships, in the WTA tennis history. The Colgate Series, renamed the Toyota Series in 1981, included tournaments in all parts of the world, whereas the Avon sponsored events took place solely in the US. The two circuits merged beginning with the 1983 season, when Virginia Slims returned to take full sponsorship rights of the WTA Tour. Every tournament under the administration of the WTA now became part of the Virginia Slims World Championships Series.
In all, Virginia Slims (Philip Morris) sponsored women's tennis from 1970 to 1978 and again from 1983 to 1994. The sponsored has received such criticism as the following from the Stanford [University] Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising: "Virginia Slims cleverly sponsored the WTA Tour Championships at the time to increase connections between cigarettes and healthy female athletes."
In 1977, women's tennis was the first professional sport opened to transgender women. The New York Supreme Court ruled in favour of Renée Richards, a player who underwent male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. Eligibility of transgender players is officially regulated under the current WTA official rulebook.
In April 1977, the Washington Post published an article entitled "Social Variety Is Slim On Women's Tennis Tour" which looked at some of the downside and difficulties faced by touring tennis pros, not unlike the problems of traveling musicians performing a whole series of tour dates and gigs. The article included the phrase "comradeship that falls short of camaraderie", because fellow members were also competitors who usually felt they needed to maintain a certain amount of distance. One player was quoted as saying, "But if you are not playing well, it is very hard."
In 1984, The Australian Open joined the US Open in offering women equal prize money, but temporarily did not between 1996 and 2000. After a 30-year campaign, 2007 marked the historic achievement of equal prize money at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. This meant all four major tournaments offered parity.
In 1995, the WTA Players Association merged with the Women's Tennis Council to form the WTA Tour.
The WTA circuit continued to expand during these years. In 1971, King became the first female athlete to surpass $100,000 in earnings for a single year. Chris Evert became the first female athlete to win over $1,000,000 in career earnings in 1976. By 1980, over 250 women were playing professionally, and the circuit consisted of 47 global events, offering a total of $7.2 million in prize money. These increased financial opportunities allowed for groundbreaking developments not only in tennis, but across women's sports.
In 1982, Martina Navratilova became the first to win over $1,000,000 in a single year. Navratilova's single year earnings exceeded $2 million in 1984. In 1997, Martina Hingis became the first to earn over $3 million during a single year. In 2003, Kim Clijsters surpassed $4 million in earnings for a single year. In 2006, Venus Williams and the WTA pushed for equal prize money at both the French Open and Wimbledon. Both of these Grand Slam events relented in 2007 and awarded equal money for the first time. This enabled Justine Henin, who won the French Open in 2007, to earn over $5 million that year, becoming the first woman in sports to do this. In 2009, Serena Williams went over the six million mark by earning over $6.5 million in a single year. Then in 2012 both Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka became first players to exceed $7 million in prize money in a single season. In 2013 Serena Williams went over the twelve million dollar mark winning $12,385,572 in a single year.
American sports entrepreneur Jerry Diamond (1928-1996) served as executive director of the women's association from 1974 to 1985. He was instrumental in negotiating business deals with Avon, Colgate-Palmolive, and Toyota, and worked out the deal that made Virginia Slims the titular sponsor of the WTA tour.
Larry Scott became chairman and CEO of the WTA on 16 April 2003. While at the WTA, Scott put together the largest sponsorship in the history of women's sports, a six-year, $88-million sponsorship deal with Sony Ericsson. On 24 March 2009, Scott announced that he was resigning as WTA chief to take up a new position as the Commissioner of the Pacific-10 Conference, now the Pac-12 Conference, on 1 July 2009.
Scott pointed to Korn Ferry to headhunt his replacement but "with no decision made" on 13 July 2009, WTA Tour announced the appointment of Stacey Allaster, the Tour's President since 2006, as the new chairman and CEO of the WTA. Allaster was named as one of the "Most Powerful Women in Sports" by Forbes Magazine and led the WTA through significant growth and under her leadership, she secured a media agreement that would maximise fan exposure to women's tennis globally. During her time with the WTA, she generated an estimated $1 billion in diversified contract revenues, built the brand globally, and was a strong advocate for gender equality. She announced her retirement as chief executive of the WTA on 22 September 2015 citing a personal change in priorities.
Ranking points are also available at tournaments on the ITF Women's Circuit organised by the International Tennis Federation, which comprises several hundred tournaments each year with prize funds ranging from US$15,000 to US$100,000, and at the Olympic Games.
In 2020, the tournament naming was simplified to align with the ATP system of naming -- WTA 1000, WTA 500, and WTA 250 -- with at least one tournament, the Cincinnati Masters, moved up in status from the middle category to the top.
The Players' Council is a group or sub-committee under the WTA board of directors, consisting of eight selected players on the tour that advocate player interest, handles grievances, changes in the tennis schedule and other concerns.
2021 Players' Council
The WTA rankings are based on a rolling 52-week, cumulative system. A player's ranking is determined by her results at a maximum of 16 tournaments for singles and 11 for doubles and points are awarded based on how far a player advances in a tournament. The basis for calculating a player's ranking are those tournaments that yield the highest ranking points during the rolling 52-week period with the condition that they must include points from the Grand Slams, Premier Mandatory tournaments, and the WTA Finals. In addition, for Top 20 players, their best two results at Premier 5 tournaments will also count. All WTA players also have a Universal Tennis Rating, based on head-to-head results.
The points distribution for tournaments in 2019 is shown below.
|Grand Slam (S)||2000||1300||780||430||240||130||70||10||40||30||20||2|
|Grand Slam (D)||2000||1300||780||430||240||130||10||-||40||-||-||-|
|WTA Finals (S)||1500*||1080*||750*||(+125 per Round Robin Match; +125 per Round Robin Win)|
|WTA Finals (D)||1500||1080||750||375||-|
|WTA Premier Mandatory (96S)||1000||650||390||215||120||65||35||10||30||-||20||2|
|WTA Premier Mandatory (64/60S)||1000||650||390||215||120||65||10||-||30||-||20||2|
|WTA Premier Mandatory (28/32D)||1000||650||390||215||120||10||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|WTA Premier 5 (56S,64Q)||900||585||350||190||105||60||1||-||30||22||15||1|
|WTA Premier 5 (56S,48/32Q)||900||585||350||190||105||60||1||-||30||-||20||1|
|WTA Premier 5 (28D)||900||585||350||190||105||1||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|WTA Premier 5 (16D)||900||585||350||190||1||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|WTA Elite Trophy (S)||700*||440*||240*||(+40 per Round Robin Match; +80 per Round Robin Win)|
|WTA Premier (56S)||470||305||185||100||55||30||1||-||25||-||13||1|
|WTA Premier (32S)||470||305||185||100||55||1||-||-||25||18||13||1|
|WTA Premier (16D)||470||305||185||100||1||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|WTA International (32S,32Q)||280||180||110||60||30||1||-||-||18||14||10||1|
|WTA International (32S,16Q)||280||180||110||60||30||1||-||-||18||-||12||1|
|WTA International (16D)||280||180||110||60||1||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|WTA 125K series (S)||160||95||57||29||15||1||-||-||6||-||4||1|
|WTA 125K series (D)||160||95||57||29||1||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|ITF $100,000 + H(32)||150||90||55||28||14||1||-||-||6||4||1||-|
|ITF $100,000 + H(16)||150||90||55||28||1||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|ITF $100,000 (32)||140||85||50||25||13||1||-||-||6||4||1||-|
|ITF $100,000 (16)||140||85||50||25||1||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|ITF $75,000 + H(32)||130||80||48||24||12||1||-||-||5||3||1||-|
|ITF $75,000 + H(16)||130||80||48||24||1||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|ITF $75,000 (32)||115||70||42||21||10||1||-||-||5||3||1||-|
|ITF $75,000 (16)||115||70||42||21||1||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|ITF $50,000 + H(32)||100||60||36||18||9||1||-||-||5||3||1||-|
|ITF $50,000 + H(16)||100||60||36||18||1||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|ITF $50,000 (32)||80||48||29||15||8||1||-||-||5||3||1||-|
|ITF $50,000 (16)||80||48||29||15||1||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|ITF $25,000 (32)||50||30||18||9||5||1||-||-||2||-||-||-|
|ITF $25,000 (16)||50||30||18||9||1||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|ITF $15,000 (32)||25||15||9||5||1||0||-||-||1||-||-||-|
|ITF $15,000 (16)||25||15||9||5||0||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|ITF $10,000 (32)||12||7||4||2||1||0||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|ITF $10,000 (16)||12||7||4||2||0||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
S = singles players, D = doubles teams, Q = qualification players.
* Assumes undefeated Round Robin match record.
"+H" indicates that Hospitality is provided.
+Change since previous week's rankings
?Change since previous week's rankings
The Global Advisory Council of international business leaders has sixteen members as of September 2013.