Original Nine Spotlight:
Judy Tegart Dalton
Steve Flink | April 29, 2020
In honor of the 50th anniversary of women's professional tennis, International Tennis Hall of Fame writer and historian Steve Flink is catching up with each member of the Original Nine for USTA.com. In his latest interview, he talks with Judy Tegart Dalton.
Reporting in World Tennis Magazine about Judy Tegart Dalton reaching the singles final at Wimbledon in 1968, Mary Hardwick Hare wrote, “Judy has for a long time been one of the most popular players with spectators and opponents alike, so effervescent and happy is her personality. She is a true extrovert. Judy is carefree, tomboyish but feminine, and has her ponytail-tied in Australian green ribbon to match her Ted Tinling dress with green trim. She is smiling happily or slapping her thigh in frustration, athletic, loose and a whirlwind who plays the Big Game.”ADVERTISEMENT
Tegart Dalton upended Margaret Smith Court and Nancy Richey to reach that final on the lawns of the All England Club—the first title-round clash of the Open era for the women at Wimbledon. She lost a hard-fought contest against Billie Jean King. The highly regarded authority Joe McCauley ranked Tegart Dalton No. 6 in the world at the end of that year.
That was perhaps her finest season, but there were many. She secured no fewer than nine majors (eight in women’s doubles, one in mixed), taking five of those crowns alongside Court, winning all four of the Grand Slam women’s doubles events at least once. Through it all, she was exuberant, purposeful and unshakable.
When the Original Nine assembled in Houston 50 years ago, Tegart Dalton, 32, was the oldest player. It was her nature to take chances—not recklessly, but imaginatively. She stood up for her beliefs, on and off the court, not only when it was convenient but even at the most daunting of times.
In this recent interview, Tegart Dalton mused about the formation of the Original Nine, the role she played in that movement and the irrevocable way women’s tennis was altered in the process. She speaks now the way she always did—clearly, candidly and authentically. Read on.
Steve Flink: When the Original Nine came together in Houston 50 years ago, you were the oldest player. You had accomplished a lot, winning nine majors all together and reaching the Wimbledon final in singles two years earlier. Was it less of a risk for you at that stage of your career, being 32 years old?
Judy Tegart Dalton: The risk was less for me, and I was more than happy to support the eight other girls, like Billie [Jean King], Rosie [Casals] and Nancy [Richey], because I felt it was the right thing to do. I was lucky because my husband was with me, and he was all for it. He was not in Houston, but he was in New York when we all talked about it, so he knew what was going on and was encouraging to me.
Flink: Describe from your vantage point the respective roles of Billie Jean King as the star player and Gladys Heldman as the promoter.
Dalton: Without either of them, we couldn’t have achieved what we did. One couldn’t have done without the other. Gladys had all the contacts, and she knew Joe Cullman. She was forceful and determined to make it work. On the other hand, Billie really wanted to make it work, as well. She also wanted to have her husband, Larry, involved as the promoter, but that wasn’t going to happen because the majority of us felt that Gladys was the right person to do it for us. They both were very important.
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Flink: When the players voted to determine whether Larry King or Gladys Heldman would be in charge going forward after Houston, was it a decisive vote?
Dalton: I would have thought so. I don’t really know how the vote turned out. I would have thought Billie and Rosie voted for Larry and maybe one other player. It might have been 6-3. Nancy Richey rang her father, and he told her she had to go with Gladys. Kerry Reid did whatever I wanted to do, which was great. She placed her faith in me, which was amazing because Kerry had a lot more to lose than I did. Kerry told me, "If you think it is right to go with Gladys, then I am there.”
Flink: You got to the final of that first event in Houston in September of 1970. How much do you remember about that match with Rosie and the whole environment?
Dalton: I remember that quite well. I should have won it, and I didn’t. But it was an amazing experience. The prime thing was not me or Rosie winning the tournament. It was what we were doing. It’s interesting because I don’t think any of us realized what we had actually done. Yes, we wanted to see if women’s tournaments could make a go of it, and then we had the very first one in Houston and people came out to see us. It was quite successful. We started a circuit. But not until much later on did anyone quite realize what was happening. Maybe it was three years later when we started the WTA that it became more apparent, and it went from there. It wasn’t just the tournaments, either. Title IX came in, and women’s equality was coming in, as well, all at that same time. Of course, in Australia, they didn’t have a clue what Title IX was, and they didn’t know about women’s equality.
Flink: You knew Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe and Tony Roche. What are your recollections of what they thought about what you were doing in establishing a separate women’s circuit?
Dalton: From memory, I don’t think they ever really said anything to me about it. They had a lot going on during that period before Houston with their own tennis. I don’t think they really thought about us. And the Australian Association [Tennis Australia] was so anti-us—meaning Kerry Reid and myself. They caused so many problems. Even a few years earlier, when I made the Wimbledon final, they wouldn’t let me receive my prize money in 1968.
Flink: You had this great and long career and played until you were 40. You led Australia to Fed Cup triumphs and won all of those majors in doubles. How would you rate all of those accomplishments alongside establishing the Original Nine?
Dalton: It’s interesting. I would classify being in the Original Nine as one of my big achievements, one of my greatest actually. We changed history, and tennis would not ever be the same. I just think it was a great achievement for all of us with the risks we all took to do it, especially the younger players. And I took a risk, too, because I loved playing Wimbledon and the Australian Open, and to think that I wouldn’t be able to play those tournaments if I was suspended was quite a shock. We didn’t realize that the Australian Association and the USTA would be so against it.
Flink: All of the players except you and Kerry Reid were Americans. How close-knit was the group, and how well did you and Kerry fit in with the seven Americans?
Dalton: We were all fine. I had always been close to Billie, Rosie, Nancy and all of the American players. Kerry was very happy to be part of it all. She was quiet in a way but glad to be doing it. So all of us were in this together.
Flink: Women’s tennis took off after that through the ‘70s and on from there, right up until the present era. Has it exceeded your expectations?
Dalton: Billie and I have talked about that, and we have said to each other that we had no vision it would be like it was. On a monetary scale, if only we had known what was coming, we have said we would have put a percentage of the prize money into a fund for all of us. Had we done that we all would have been really secure. But there was no fund in those days. We did hope it would be successful, and look what is happening now. I am sure even Billie didn’t expect it to be like it is now.
Flink: What led you to playing up until the age of 40, and why did you decide to put the racquet down then?
Dalton: I got married and played for a few more years. I couldn’t have played much longer, and I had achieved a lot, so I felt it was time to go. Then I had my two children, and I did go back and played Wimbledon in the special senior events. And I even played in the mixed and women’s doubles for a couple of years after that. I enjoyed my playing days.
Flink: Your two kids—talk about them.
Dalton: I have a girl and a boy. My daughter lives in Melbourne, and my son lives now in Edinburgh. He has got three children, but they don’t play tennis. Neither of my kids played tennis. My middle granddaughter is really good at basketball and hockey. They all love coming to Wimbledon to watch the tennis, but they don’t play.
Flink: Women’s tennis has changed enormously. Speak about the evolution.
Dalton: It has changed so much, and they are great at what they do and making a lot of money. But it is hard for me to imagine the players today doing what we did in 1970, when we signed with Gladys. No way. They would all be more self-centered than we were. Our Original Nine was amazing in how we went about it.
Flink: Address the changes in technology and how it has led to so many great players since you left the game?
Dalton: Equipment has changed the way people play in a big way. Players approach it differently from a fitness level. One of the reasons my career lasted so long was because Margaret Court and I trained together a lot in Melbourne. In those days, women didn’t do that off the court. Then Martina Navratilova changed all that. Margaret did a huge amount in the gym, and I did, too, but Martina went into the diet aspect, as well as the training, and that raised the level of the game. Venus and Serena came along with all of that power. And the equipment kept changing all the time. But some of the players are so robotic. Where are the characters in the game? I have said to Martina and Billie that I would love to have a lot of money to run a tournament where everyone plays with wood racquets and they could choose what size grip they want and a weight for the racket, but no special dimensions. I would love to see that.
Flink: What do you miss the most about that big chunk of your life you spent as a player?
Dalton: I miss the companionship, and that is why I love the reunions. When we had our reunion in Charleston in 2012 for the Original Nine, I hadn’t seen some of the girls for 20 years or something like that. It was lovely to see everybody again. I don’t know if the current players would ever do something like this. There are some nice friendships, like Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams today, but they don’t have the camaraderie like we did. We really helped one another. We developed a bond that will never break. We went to see the “Battle of the Sexes” movie when it came out a few years ago, and that was lovely seeing everybody again.
Flink: Define the legacy of the Original Nine as a landmark group, not just for women’s tennis but all of women’s sports.
Dalton: I am so pleased, really, that we made such a difference. I think the Americans accepted what we did much more than any of the other countries. I don’t know with the Australians. But Craig Tiley [CEO of Tennis Australia] is really good, and he supports women’s tennis enormously. Billie Jean came out to see the World Cup Cricket this past February. She had a luncheon, and nearly 500 people attended. She told them that every Australian tennis player should kiss the feet of Kerry Reid and myself for what we did. She said the prize money today would not be there if it wasn’t for what we did with the Original Nine. That was nice of her to say those things.
Flink: Over time, Billie Jean became almost larger than life, and the USTA named its entire US Open facility after her. Now she is an icon. How do you feel about the status she has gained in life and how much she has contributed to women’s sports and women, in general?
Dalton: She has contributed an enormous amount. For the international cricket people to invite her to be a special guest in Melbourne in a place that holds 100,000 and 89,000 people there watching the finals with Australia against India—that was absolutely unheard of. It is just wonderful to see Billie’s influence being felt not only in tennis but other sports, as well. She deserves every single credit she gets. She has always thought of other people and not herself. Billie finds it difficult to say no to people. I have always said to her, ‘For goodness sake, take care of yourself because you will kill yourself by not being able to say no.’ She just wants to help. She always has, and she always will.