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Julie Heldman’s International Tennis Hall of Fame Speech

“By honoring the Original 9 today, the International Tennis Hall
of Fame is sending a message to female athletes in all sports.” Julie Heldman said in her Hall of Fame speech. Photo credit: International Tennis Hall of Fame Facebook

By Julie Heldman

I’m a proud member of the Original 9, and I feel both thrilled and profoundly honored that the Hall of Fame is inducting us as a group and acknowledging our contributions to women’s tennis and to women everywhere. 

By now, most of you have seen the iconic photo of our group, taken in Houston in September 1970, just before the start of the ground-breaking tournament we have come to celebrate. The photo shows eight top women tennis players, grinning and raising one-dollar bills, alongside my mother, the architect and engineer of the early tour. She is no longer with us, but we remain grateful for all the miracles she pulled off. 

Yes, there were eight women in the photo, not nine, because I’m not in that photo. I hadn’t planned to compete in Houston, because at that time, I was so deeply wounded, physically and mentally, that I couldn’t compete in a tournament for another five months.

Original Nine after their International Tennis Hall of Fame induction. Photo credit: International Tennis Hall of Fame Facebook

But I, like the other eight women, understood the importance of the moment, and when I heard that my pals and rivals were taking a risk for women’s tennis, I jumped in to join them. 

So I competed in Houston by playing just one point, out of solidarity, to stand up against the male-dominated tennis associations that were threatening our right to earn a living. Billie Jean King and I went out on a side court, and after just a few moments of pitty-pat tennis, I intentionally h

it the ball into the net, an act that was totally foreign to my nature. Once we cemented the deal by shaking hands at the net, our group became the Original 9.

The nine of us were rebels, but we were not alone. The Houston tournament could only accommodate eight players, but plenty more women would have taken the risk, if they’d only had the opportunity. Sure, it’s true that not every woman player chose to join us right away, but let’s not forget that soon after the tour got under way, women players arrived in droves from around the world, ready to stand together. Without that kind of solidarity, the tour might have fizzled out quickly. 

The Original 9 are being honored today for our courageous stand, but also as the symbol of all the early competitors on the women’s pro tour, who banded together for the present and the future of women’s tennis.

This honor has been 51 years in the making, but it remains exquisitely timely. Since 1970, vastly increased numbers of girls and women have participated in sports and excelled. And once again, the cry of insurrection is in the air, spearheaded by women soccer players, but repeated throughout women’s sports, echoing our long-ago demand to be respected and paid for doing what we did best. 

By honoring the Original 9 today, the International Tennis Hall of Fame is sending a message to female athletes in all sports. The message is: Keep fighting. Your time is coming.

Editors Note • It was funny. We’ve seen inductees melt in the Newport sun those and in the heat. We’ve now seen the New England FOG move in… Or was the Fog actually or Gladys Heldman and her buddy Joe Cullman (“Mr.  Virginia Slims “) dropping in. It was slightly eerie. But so perfect.  After all they were celebrating too. Gladys was a force of nature. Hello fog. Joe was a ball buster. There you go. It was a special day to any and all female athletes. It was an amazing scene. And long over due. Special thanks to our dear friend Julie for sharing (LJ)