Sport Remembering the Original 9, the pioneers of women’s tennis The sport barely existed when they started competing Read more
The sport of tennis didn’t have a female equivalent when Margaret Court played her last match as a player in 1973. The all-singing/all-dancing ensembles of male celebrities were famous and popular but “lesbian tennis”, as the sport has long been known, had yet to exist.
When Court quit the game, junior tennis was being contested mostly by men. Nor was there anything like a women’s version of the Davis Cup, the international competition staged for men and women.
“Everyone did everything but play,” the former US star Suzanne Lenglen told the Guardian in 2011.
On a particularly blustery day in Seoul, between 1973 and 1978, the mighty Lesley Turner and Lan Lee set a world record for women’s doubles while also achieving the first top-10 win for any female team.
The pair won their seven matches by an average score of 7-6, with one tie being decided by a deciding point at 9-9 in the fifth set.
At one point, they had hit 27 successive unforced errors before reeling off a five-setter to take a 3-1 lead. They took to the court full of self-belief and speaking of individual goal-setting that was uncommon for the 1970s: “We had a storyboard. Our goals in life were all written down. No one had ever spoken to us about any of it before.”
Despite the mixed nature of their success, they trained separately on the same court, facing a demanding schedule as the best player in the world.
No women’s singles and doubles women’s team of that era were ever to reach a world ranking in the top 100. “The association wanted to make doubles a haven for women – you can be as good as you want and you can take all the time off you want,” Lee said.
“Yet they wanted us to practise. That was the danger. You could also not complain if you didn’t play singles. You are in the same locker room as all the men. You are among your kind. You become like teammates. There was no downside.”