June 24, 2007 -- As tradition collides with modern reality, women will now have equal pay at Wimbledon's All England Lawn and Tennis and Croquet Club, which started staging tournaments in 1877.
When Billie Jean King walked through the gates for the first time in 1968, tradition hit her pretty hard. She won the first-ever ladies open singles championship. But King received only 750 British pounds, about $1,500 dollars in today's money. The men's champion Rod Laver received $4,000. Women champions were worth only 35 percent of their male counterparts.
"They wanted equal prize money and [the] 70s was a while ago," said tennis star Serena Williams. "I wasn't even born then and it's taken this long to have equal prize money now at Wimbledon."
The U.S., Australian, and French Opens already have equal pay. But the All England Club held out until this year on the basis that men play best of five sets, while women play only best of three sets, and that men's tennis was considered to give better value for the money. That didn't cut much ice in the outside world.
"The women are the superstars in this sport ... in terms of driving the TV ratings," said ESPN's Christine Brennan. "Women have always been a major factor, really, going back to Chris Evert and Tracy Austin, and with that in mind, you can make a strong case, of course, they should be paid equally."
Now they finally are, at the spiritual home of tennis.
"You know, I think it sends a great message," Williams said. "It's a step in the right direction, I mean, for just not only tennis, but just for women's sports and just for women all."