Saturday, March 9, 2019

Remembering the Virginia Slims tour

From 1984 through 1987, New Orleans hosted a Virginia Slims tournament. The first four years, the event was played on indoor carpet at the Lakefront Arena; the final year, it was played on hard courts in City Park, an atmosphere I found inferior to the indoor one.

New Orleans wasn't one of the original Virginia Slims venues, but got the event when Detroit was forced to give it up (that venue lost its main sponsor, the Junior League of Detroit).

Of the five tournaments that were played in the Crescent City, Chris Evert won three and Martina Navratilova won two. Navratilova and Evert were also on the championship doubles teams (with Pam Shriver and Wendy Turnbull, respectively) the first two years of the event.

I loved attending the Virginia Slims matches. They were the first professional matches I'd ever seen that weren't on my television. The atmosphere was very relaxed. I recall, one year, no one had bothered to tell one of the top players about the city's unpredictable, thrill ride of a public transportation system, and play was delayed because she had taken the bus to the stadium. Rather than being upset, fans just shook their heads knowingly and crossed their fingers.

Some really good players came to New Orleans over the years. In addition to Evert, Navratilova, Shriver, and Turnbull, we had Anne Smith, Lori McNeil, Zina Garrison, Sylvia Hanika, Kathy Rinaldi, Bettina Bunge, Elise Burgin, Gigi Fernandez, and Monica Seles.

The purse was generally around $150,000.

The Virginia Slims Circuit was founded in 1970 by the Original 9, when they broke off from the USLTA because of the extreme pay inequality between male and female players. The Virginia Slims Circuit was a creation of the heart, and while some people were not pleased that a sports organization was taking money from a tobacco company, it wasn't like the founders had a choice. "You've come a long way, baby," the company's female empowerment advertising slogan, took on a whole new meaning when it funded what would eventually become the WTA.


colt13 said...

A new post, Yay!

As a kid, I was sent to buy cigarettes from the vending machine. I would confuse Virginia Slims and More Cigarettes because they were both long and skinny. Then I learned the Virginia Slims slogan and never forgot again.

Diane said...