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40 Years Young: WTA Celebrates Anniversary

The WTA celebrate their 40th anniversary
by Nicholas McCarvel
Monday 1 July 2013

The day of rest for The Championships 2013 turned into a day of celebration on Sunday at Wimbledon as the Women's Tennis Association celebrated its 40th anniversary with 17 of its top 21 world No.1s from throughout history attending an event in their honour.

Billie Jean King, one of the "Original Nine" that helped form the WTA, was the crown jewel of the afternoon, as former top players (and Wimbledon winners) including Amelie Mauresmo, Justine Henin, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Navratilova all paid tribute to King and her trail-blazing ways, which helped form the tour on a famous afternoon at the Gloucester Hotel in London in 1973.

"None of this would be possible if Billie Jean hadn't taken a stand for women's tennis," said current No.1 and defending Wimbledon champion Serena Williams. "Being No.1 is great, but fighting for the generation to come is even better for me. That's something that I think Billie Jean was able to do very well."

The afternoon featured the 17 former No.1s walking a specially-made pink carpet for photographers and TV interviews before they went inside for a question-and-answer session, hosted by former players Mary Carillo and Pam Shriver.

Kim Clijsters, Venus Williams, Steffi Graf and Victoria Azarenka were unable to attend.

Current players Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova were all in attendance, however, though their Wimbledon runs are over. Former American No.1s Chris Evert and Tracy Austin attended as well, Tracy telling a story that even Chrissie didn't know - stirring laughter.

"I was a ball girl for one of Chris' matches," the two-time US Open champ said. "I wanted her autograph so badly after the match that I had her sign my hand - I didn't have any paper!"

Wimbledon played a special part in the festivities, with both Wimbledon CEO Richard Lewis and AELTC Chairman Philip Brook in attendance. Wimbledon donated £40,000 to a development fund that assists WTA family members who are struggling.

"1973 was the year the first cell phone was sold," Brook said, marvelling at the stretch of 40 years of the tour. "Can you imagine Venus or Serena without cell phones? This tour has come so far."

King recalled the day in 1973 when the tour finally came to fruition.

"It was a week before Wimbledon and we had 63 women in a room at the Gloucester Hotel," the six-time Wimbledon champion explained. "We were either going to have an association at the end of that meeting or we weren't. I remember walking out on Centre Court the next week at Wimbledon finally knowing we had our association and I felt so happy and so relieved. There was so much as stake that day."

Navratilova, who owns 178 career titles and nine Wimbledons, recalls the leadership King demonstrated in forming the tour.

"My first Wimbledon was 1973 and I had no idea what an association even was. Billie Jean had the foresight to know what was best for us."

King added: "The thing we talked about before forming the tour is that we wanted future generations - for any girl born in the world - that they could make a living and be recognised and be appreciated as a female athlete. Now this tour is truly global. The young players are shaping the future of this sport."

Along with other former No.1s like Monica Seles, Margaret Court, Dinara Safina, Jennifer Capriati, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Evonne Goolagong, future stars Eugenie Bouchard and Madison Keys were also in attendance, both coming off strong Wimbledon performances.

Sharapova said the fight from generations past only help educate and motivate the current for the future.

"Today it's incredible to have all these women in the same place which is so unusual for all of us. It's an honor," said Sharapova, who owns a career Grand Slam that was kicked off with her stunning win at Wimbledon in 2004. "It makes us realize that we have to think about what's ahead of us and the generations to come."

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