Billie Jean King and the other members of the Original 9 who laid the groundwork for the women’s professional tour are the first group elected together to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, joining Lleyton Hewitt and Dennis Van der Meer in the Class of 2021.
In results announced Wednesday, Hewitt was the only one of five nominees in the Player Category who was voted in. He won Grand Slam singles titles at the US Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002, reached No. 1 in the ATP rankings, and helped Australia win a pair of Davis Cup championships.
“When you are competing, you’re so focused on training and your results that week or that year, you don’t really look ahead to something like this,” Hewitt said. “But when that is all compiled up and deemed deserving of becoming a Hall of Famer, well, it’s just the ultimate recognition for a player, and I’m so honored.”
The other nominees in that category were Lisa Raymond, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Sergi Bruguera and Jonas Bjorkman.
Van der Meer, who died in 2019, advocated for a universal teaching method in tennis and was elected in the Contributor Category, as were the Original 9.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of when King, elected to the Hall in 1987 for her accomplishments on the court, and eight other players — Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Judy Dalton, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville Reid, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey and Valerie Ziegenfuss — took a stand against the disparity in prize money between men and women in the sport at the time.
“I guess you could say we were women’s tennis suffragettes, in a way,” Pigeon said.
On Sept. 23, 1970, they all signed $1 contracts with World Tennis Magazine publisher Gladys Heldman to participate in the first women-only tennis tournament. That set the stage for the Virginia Slims circuit and eventually today’s WTA Tour.
Now all four Grand Slam tournaments offer equal prize money to women and men.
“There were three things we were really focused on achieving,” King said. “No. 1, that any girl born in this world would have a place to play and compete. No. 2, that women would be appreciated for our accomplishments, not just our looks. And No. 3, that women would finally be able to make a living playing professional tennis. Today, every time a woman gets a check for competing in a Grand Slam or the WTA Tour or gets to play in a pro tournament, you can trace it back to that day.”
The induction ceremony is scheduled for July 17 at the Hall in Newport, Rhode Island, and will also honor the former players voted in as the Class of 2020, Goran Ivanisevic and Conchita Martinez, because last year’s festivities were called off because of the coronavirus pandemic.
There also will be virtual events marking the occasion in July.