Aug 25, 2008

Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Celebrates 35th Anniversary

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour marked the historic 35th anniversary of its founding on Sunday evening at a star-studded benefit celebration at the Billie Jean King International Women's Sports Center at the Sports Museum of America in New York City.

The event, co-
hosted with the United States Tennis Association (USTA), featured current and past stars of the game, with proceeds benefiting the Women's Sports Foundation, a groundbreaking organization dedicated to equal play and inspiring girls to be active and take part in sports.

Billie Jean King, Peachy Kellmeyer, Chairman and CEO of Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Larry Scott, Chairman and President of the United States Tennis Association Jane Brown Grimes attend the WTA Anniversary Party.

The evening included a special lifetime achievement award to Peachy Kellmeyer, Senior Vice President of Tour Operations, who played an integral role in the growth of the sport from its beginnings as the Tour's first employee in 1973.

Bethany Mattek (L) and Jelena Jankovic attend the WTA Anniversary Party.

Nadia Petrova attended the party too.

Larry Scott, CEO of the Tour, said: "It has been wonderful to host this fantastic event that has brought the best of women's tennis together to celebrate the historic achievements on the past 35 years in our sport. For the Tour to be able to host this celebration in a building dedicated to the advancement of women in sport, the Billie Jean King International Women's Sports Centre, named after the pioneer of women's tennis, is fitting and telling of how far the sport has come."

It's been some time since we seen Mary Joe Fernandez.

King said: "Thirty-five years ago we had a vision and today, because of the hard work, dedication and compassion of many women and men, we are celebrating a reality. The Women's Tennis Association has grown from a dream that came to life at a meeting in a London hotel to a major force in sports and entertainment."

Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion and former world No.1, said: "As a player it's inspiring to think about all of the amazing women who were not only incredible athletes, but also social pioneers for women's rights and equality. As athletes we are proud of how far the sport has come both on and off the court, and feel a responsibility to carry the mantle of our founder, Billie Jean King."

From 1973, when 63 players met in the Gloucester Hotel, London to form an association seeking equality, recognition and respect, with King anointed as President, there have been a number of significant milestones in 35 years:

1973 - WTA founded. US Open offers equal prize money. "Battle of the Sexes" between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. 50 million watch the game on TV. King wins in straight sets.

1977 - Season-ending Championships are held in Madison Square Garden for the first time. They remain there for the next 23 years.

1982 - Martina Navratilova passes $1 million in prize money in a single year, the first woman to do so. She jumps ahead of Jimmy Connors as the sports all-time money leader.

1987 - Steffi Graf takes the No.1 ranking from Navratilova. She holds it for 187 consecutive weeks, more than any man or woman in the history of tennis until the emergence of Roger Federer.

1988 - Graf achieves the "Golden Slam", winning all four Slam titles in a single year and winning gold at the Seoul Olympics.

1990 - With 60 events in 18 countries, the Tour offers $23 million in total prize money. The season-ending Championships boasts the first ever $1-million tournament and the first women's five-set match in 89 years between Monica Seles and Gabriela Sabatini.

1991 - Monica Seles becomes the youngest player to take the No.1 ranking, aged 17 years and three months.

1997 - Martin Hingis becomes the newyoungest player to take the No.1 ranking, aged 16 years and six months.

2002 - Venus and Serena Williams become the first sisters to be No.1 and No.2.

2003 - Kim Clijsters becomes the first woman to earn $4 million in a season.

2005 - The Tour signs a landmark $88-million, six-year sponsorship agreement with Sony Ericsson, the largest sponsorship in the history of tennis and women's professional sport. Record sponsorship deals are also announced with Whirlpool and Dubai Duty Free. Equal prize money is agreed at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami and the Dubai Duty Free Open in Dubai.

2006 - Landmark global partnership struck with UNESCO to further gender equality and promote women’s leadership.

2007 - With Wimbledon and Roland Garros' historic decisions to award equal prize money, an over 30 year campaign for equality comes to a successful conclusion, and there is equal prize money at all four Grand Slam events for the first time in the history of tennis. The Tour passes its landmark Roadmap plan bringing the most sweeping reforms to the Tour's circuit structure in the sport's history. The Tour signs historic back-to-back $42 million deals with each of Doha, Qatar and Istanbul, Turkey to host the year end Sony Ericsson Championships for each of 2008-2010 and 2011-2013 respectively.

2008 - The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour opens an Asia-Pacific HQ in Beijing, China.

(Images by Brad Barket/Getty Images for WTA, Text via

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