When Arina Sabalenka At the Australian Open in January, Daphne Akhurst lifted the Memorial Cup and raised more than £1.5m in prize money, her first words being for the woman who gave her the silver teams.

“Getting the trophy from you is a huge inspiration,” Sabalenka told Billie Jean King. “Thank you so much for everything you do for our sport.”

King had watched Sabalenka’s defeat Elena Rybakina From the front row of Rod Laver Arena with the six women who helped make tennis the most lucrative women’s sport in the world.

June will be half a century since King gathered more than 60 women at London’s Gloucester Hotel. WTA.

The seeds were planted three years ago when nine women, resentful of being treated as second-class citizens in tennis’s rookie professional age, dived in on their own.

King, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Kerry Melville, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Judy Dalton, Valerie Ziegenfuss and Julie Heldman, known as the Original Nine, have signed symbolic one-dollar contracts to compete in a new round, the Virginia Slims Series.

This became the WTA, and later in 1973 the US Open became the first grand slam to offer equal prize money after King threatened to boycott it.

Joined by Casals, Melville, Bartkowicz, Pigeon, Dalton and Ziegenfuss in Melbourne, King looked back at their battle for equality.

Now it’s clear, if you know the history, they’re living our dream.

Billie Jean King

“When we imagined a lap, when we imagined equal prize money, we thought it would take a long time,” he said.

“There are three things we thought about with the original Granny. (First) if she was good enough, any girl in this world would have a place to compete. Not to play, but to compete.

“Number number two is to be appreciated not just for our looks, but also for our achievements. And number three is really important, making a living in tennis, a sport we love to play.

“As amateurs, we used to get $14 a day. We really wanted this. We wanted it for future generations. We knew that if we did well, it would do us some good. Actual events would be left to posterity.

“It was a nightmare. It was really scary. I was really scared. But I kept thinking about the future. Now it’s clear, if you know the history, they are living our dream.”

It took until 2007 for all grand slams to pay equal prize money, and in the decade and a half since then, wages have skyrocketed.

Tennis gamers dominate the world’s highest-paid female athletes in 2022 – four out of the top five and seven out of the top 10, according to Forbes Naomi Osaka guiding the way.

King will turn 80 this year, but he hasn’t lost any of the fire that drove him to change his sport and remains one of tennis’ most outspoken figures.

He kept the story of the Original Nine and the fundamentals of the WTA on the agenda, not only to ensure that he and his groundbreaking team are not forgotten, but also to prevent today’s players from falling into complacency.

  1. Naomi Osaka – £42.1m
  2. Serena Williams – £34.1m
  3. Eileen Gu (ski) – £17.4m
  4. Emma Raducanu – £15.4m
  5. Iga Swiatek – £12.3m

While grand slams pay equally, there is a significant and widening gap in touring events, with WTA suffering from lower commercial interest compared to ATP and uncertainty over its previously lucrative relationship with China.

Banned from playing in his home country for participating in the breakup tour, Australian Dalton believes Original Nine is under-appreciated.

“Doing all this, doing what we’re doing, I think is great,” he said. “But I don’t think other people noticed what we were doing. I don’t think the players were aware of what we were doing. I never see that happening today, people used to do it.