You’ve Come A Long Ways, Baby
From the time Wingfield patented the game, both men and women have enjoyed the sport. It took a little longer for women to achieve the respect and professional standing they enjoy today—not because they lacked talent, but because the public and tennis sponsors were a little slower to embrace the women’s game.
One of the first obstacles women had to overcome was dress. In the 1800s, women played tennis in corsets, petticoats and long skirts. A daring French woman changed all of that in 1919. Suzanne Lenglen, the top woman’s player of the day, appeared at Wimbledon wearing a shocking white dress with short sleeves and a hem that fell just below her knees. Women everywhere cheered the advent of more comfortable tennis attire.
The second obstacle was money. When Margaret Court won her Grand Slam title in 1970, she earned just $15,000 for winning all four major tournaments. Men were competing for much larger cash prizes. In that same year, the men’s winner at a tournament in Los Angeles earned $12,500. The woman’s champion earned $1,500 and had to pay her own expenses. So the women started their own tournaments with the sponsorship of Virginia Slims cigarettes. Just one year later, women were playing for purses as large as $40,000. In 1973, for the first time ever, the women’s and men’s champions at the U.S. open earned equal prize money.
What a Name for a Game
Tennis truly has come a long ways from the time when it was (briefly) known as sphairistike and played on the lawns of Great Britain at parties. Today, tennis is played around the world on surfaces ranging from grass, to clay, to composite rubber to cement. Millions of fans watch their favorite players compete in televised tournaments. Tennis stars are some of the most well known sports personalities in the world. Not bad for a game that started with such an unusual name.