The female heroines who changed tennis forever

Billie Jean King led the way in the fight for prize money to match the men's game in the 1970s and barriers continue to be broken down.

Throughout history, female tennis leaders have had to fight hard for visibility in their sport.

Relentlessly breaking through gender barriers, activism continues to sit at the heart of women’s tennis.

Female tennis players, umpires, support staff and organisational leaders are guiding a more equitable and inclusive culture, driving conversations on gender pay equality, parenthood, body empowerment, mental health, participation, and many accessibility issues. 

Yet, the visibility gap remains.

This is a slow process and after Billie Jean King led the way in the fight for prize money to match the men’s game in the 1970s, many key moments have cracked the glass ceiling in tennis.


One such occasion came in 1984, as Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova went head-to-head in the Wimbledon Final while Britain’s Georgina Clark sat in the umpire’s chair on Centre Court.

The first woman to officiate a women’s singles final at the All-England Club, this was just one of many contributions to tennis for the respected figure who also held roles as the WTA’s Vice President for European Operations and Worldwide Tour Director.

Since Clark’s breakthrough moment 38 years ago, female umpires have taken charge of some of the game’s biggest matches, with Britain’s Allison Hughes being one of only two people to have been chair umpire for the singles finals at each of the four Grand Slam events.

The success story for female umpires had another moment to cherish in 2021, with Croatia’s Marija Cicak becoming the first woman to be appointed as umpire for a Men’s Singles’ Final at Wimbledon.

“I was just working events on lines or in the chair, and would play low-level tournaments for myself, just for fun, and I really enjoyed it,” Cicak told the WTA, as she looked back on her life in tennis.

“When I was 18, I decided to quit playing tennis to go to university. I decided to stop because here, it’s not so easy to pursue a sports career and university at the same time. It’s a different system than what it is in, say, the United States, and to be honest, I just wanted to focus on other things rather than play tennis. I wanted to just go to school and enjoy officiating.”

“Through all these years, it’s been great working for the organisation that has always promoted women’s sport in an excellent way,” she continued.

“To me, it’s very important to work with people with whom I share the same values and the same principles. It’s no coincidence that tennis is the leading women’s sport in the world — and I consider myself very fortunate, because in our small way, we try to make the world a better place.”


It is not just in umpiring that women have broken down barriers in tennis, with Judy Murray a prominent voice for the women’s game in Britain and around the world, driving the push to get more women onto the coaching pathway and into the tennis workforce.

Amelie Mauresmo’s appointment as Tournament Director at the French Open was another significant moment in the story of women’s tennis, with former British No.1 Laura Robson recently filling a similar role for an ITF World Tennis Tour event at Loughborough as she starts a new phase of her own tennis story.

LTA and Getty's photo exhibition celebrating women's tennis in Glasgow

LTA and Getty’s photo exhibition celebrating women’s tennis in Glasgow

Britain’s LTA recently staged an exhibition looking back on the great heroes of women’s tennis to coincide with the the staging of the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Glasgow, with the legacy of those who have changed the court for the stars of today celebrated in the grand manner.

Tennis has led the way in opening doors for women to reach the top of the sport and the momentum behind that drive continues to gather pace.