Women in Tennis History
Women have had it rough getting accepted into rough and “intelligent” environments in society. Tennis was no exception. Women weren’t allowed to play professionally or competitively until 1884 when the Wimbledon opened its doors to them. Even though they were allowed to play competitively, however, the sport was adapted to enable the women to remain proper, and safe, while playing. The female players were dressed head to foot with clothing and padding so as not to show any scandalous skin, or hurt themselves. As most can imagine, this stuffy, heavy, attire made playing tennis in an aggressive fashion difficult, and very hot. It was to the point where the people called it Pat Ball, because the women could only manage to simply “pat” the ball over the net. Regardless of the disagreeable attire and forced manner of play, however, the game took off, and the women immediately started advancing their games through courageous acts against social normativity.
Little by little, the women started removing or shortening items of the clothing with each Wimbledon until we reach the norm of today’s tennis fashion of short skirts and no-sleeve shirts. This enabled the women to play more freely and consequently, more competitively without being in danger of heat stroke. The increase of competitive play in women’s tennis might also have had influence in the spreading trend of allowing women to play competitively.
In 1887, the first women’s French Championship was held, then in 1900 women were able to compete in the Olympic tennis games. A bit after, the Australian Championships followed suit in 1922 until all championships allowed for women to compete. Not only was this movement of accepting women into sports beneficial to the women, but to the observing audience as well. In 1953, a 16 year old Maureen or “Little Mo” became the first woman to score a Grand Slam, and exciting event not only for the players, but for admirers as well. Little Mo getting a Grand Slam may have empowered women and men to believe that women can do just as well in sports as their opposite sex. Billie Jean King played a larger part in the movement empowering women both on and off of the court. In 1973, she won the “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs in front of 30,000 people and a television audience of over 50 million. She also lead the movement pushing for championships to give equal prize money for both male and female players until the U.S. Tennis Association announced that the U.S. Open would deliver the demand. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen so easily with the other championships, so 60 profession female tennis players got together and created the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association), calling for equal grand slam prize money in 1999. It was a long battle, but finally, in 2007, the Wimbledon became the last grand slam major to pay equal purses to champions of both sexes.
Though women have won their right to be paid equally in the grand slam majors, many other championships still, do not pay equally to this day. On average, women are paid 20% less than men in their smaller games. They are currently being told that this is fair, because women can only play 3 sets whereas men can play 5— then the larger question becomes: why not have both sexes play an equal number of sets to pay them equally? It may be helpful to keep in mind that perhaps the Victorian ideology of dainty, weak women still plays a large part behind this inequality. However, with the strong and tremendously accomplished players like Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova on screen, we hope these ideas of women may change.
If you would like more information on women’s tennis history, please feel free to reference these websites: