Carol Mann, Billie Jean King, Billie Jean King: What was life like for British women’s tennis pioneers?


It’s hard to imagine an American sport without Carol Mann, Billie Jean King and Billie Jean King, so it is easy to overlook the fact that female sports pioneers were in existence years before.

So we are not only honouring the late men’s players of course – we are commemorating the women who paved the way for them, inspiring millions around the world.

Look to the modern day champions who have taken on the transatlantic roles once occupied by King, Mann and King, they would surely be worth including.

Here is a look at who made their mark in Britain – the England stalwarts who will forever be remembered as Wiveliscombe’s original nine.

What we do know is their struggles were not for nothing.

Mann aged 23, just an amateur, in 1910

Carol Mann, now the spokeswoman for the WTA: “I think it [womens tennis] is definitely remembered because of the great names and people that made it through to the elite era.

“Other things have changed but it does feel like women’s tennis would not be as popular as it is if we hadn’t had those incredible, great athletes who came before us.

“And the greater the demand for the sport, the better it is for everybody.”

Pat Cash, on the other hand, who was making a name for himself at the Open when Mann and King were carving up the junior game, said female sport in Britain has not really made the same strides as men’s.

“You had Mary Cartwright, who was my coach, and she was a fabulous player and competed at Wimbledon for many years,” Cash, now part of the Sky Sports commentary team, said.

“But unfortunately, over many years, we’ve been dominated by the men’s game.

“The women’s game has taken a different turn, which is good, and that is a bit of a shame.”

Lady Colin Campbell, now 77, was an all-round talent on the WTA tour when Mann and King were taking the lead

Colin Campbell, 77, who played 400 competitively and had two successful women’s doubles matches at Wimbledon: “I started by getting a couple of doubles court time and then I just loved it.

“I’m not the best hitting player, nor am I the quickest one, so I’ve had to work my way up with a lot of experience under my belt.

“The clubs that I played in had no women’s tennis, that’s why. It was more of a matter of getting into the clubs.

“Most of the club captains, either on their own or in teams, would give me a tournament with no limit on the number of players, and I wouldn’t have a match if I had less than three.”

School, college and semi-professional player Ann Jones Smith got at least partial funding from Wimbledon

Ann Jones Smith, 63, is a retired UK Coach and former International Tennis Hall of Famer: “In my day, Wimbledon had no financial support, they paid for training so that was great. I made full use of Wimbledon,” Smith said.

“Tennis was something I could play and I never expected to play professionally.

“I played at the ladies’ championships and for four or five years I played at the International Club in Windsor. The ladies’ championships was very, very important, because you were playing against the best, so it was a stepping stone.

“Every time I was eligible for Wimbledon funding, I received it. The Wimbledon ladies’ championship and the Long Course Championships were huge stepping stones, and I think the others were like that.”

Pat Cash remembers club defeats from his playing days

Professional player Pat Cash: “We need more pathways for girls, and the ladies’ tour, I would love to see a women’s Tour.

“The girl who made a lot of money on that tour – which was me – Rita West, could never play any of the men’s tournaments, and the whole women’s game needs a huge overhaul, especially the ranking system, as well as the way it’s managed.

“The women’s tour has changed drastically in the last few years, a lot more professionalism, but in terms of structure the way it’s organised, it’s so fragmented.

“The prize money is very, very low, because it’s so fragmented. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day the WTA will become a women’s pro tennis tour – but I still think it would be very difficult to do.”

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