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By Chris Oddo

Rosie Casals hosts Esurance Tennis Classic this weekend (September 20, 2012) -- Rosie Casals, a 12-time Grand Slam champion and longtime partner to Billie Jean King on the doubles court, was a pioneering, rebellious force in women’s tennis during her career. As one of the original members of the WTA’s Original Nine, Casals helped form the WTA Tour from the ground up with her determined cohorts, signing her first professional contract for $1 and going on to earn over $1 million in prize money. 

These days, the member of the International Hall of Fame runs a sports promotion company that will put on this weekend’s Esurance Tennis Classic in Mill Valley, California. 

We caught up with Casals to discuss this weekend's event, the state of the WTA Tour, equal prize money for women, and what it's like watching the stars take home more money in one tournament than she earned over her whole illustrious career.  

TN: My caveman math tells me that the Esurance Tennis Classic is donating 100k per year to local charities; can you tell me a little bit about the charitable aspect of this event?

RC: For the last eight years Harbor Point Charitable Foundation, which is the Kaliski family, has raised money for To Celebrate Life Breast Cancer Foundation, Youth Tennis Advantage, and this year Northern Lights School. And they also have the Concert for Giving, which we’ll be doing on Friday up in the Marin Civic Center with the Bryan Brothers. 

It’s great that we’ve been able to utilize the tennis to bring attention to these causes. It’s really exciting that we can generate that interest with the concert and with the tennis.

TN:  Are you going to see the Bryan Bros Band play? 

RC:  Oh yeah, I’ve seen quite a bit of them. All the players are going to be up. We’ve got a cocktail reception with all the sponsors too. 

TN:  What can fans look forward to in terms of tennis this weekend? 

Rosie Casals:  We’ve got a great weekend of tennis. It’s called the World Cup Team challenge, U.S.A. vs. the internationals, so we’re going to have a lot of people rooting for their favorite players and their favorite team. Yeah, we’ve got a great cast of characters. The Bryan Brothers; We’ve got Lindsay Davenport (three-time Grand Slam champion), Conchita Martinez (Former World No. 2 and Wimbledon champion), Gigi Fernandez (17-time Grand Slam doubles champion), Wayne Ferreira (former South African No. 1), Justin Gimelstob and Murphy Jensen (Also Mark Knowles, Rennae Stubbs, Corina Morariu and Wayne Bryan as emcee).

TN:  What do you find most rewarding about putting on this event? 

RC: Obviously the end result is always a lot nicer when the bleachers are full. That’s really our main focus: Getting full attendance and raising as much money as we can for charity. 

TN: I wonder if you and the other eight members of the Original Nine took offense to Gilles Simon’s comments about women not deserving equal prize money because they don’t play best-of-five in the Slams. 

Rosie Casals:  Well, we’ve been hearing that same argument forever. I think the women are very capable of playing best-of-five, and to tell you the truth, five sets of tennis is not always great tennis, is it? It’s all about the quality and the entertainment value of tennis. I don’t know if it’s an issue as to the quality of the tennis. You have Elton John and then you have the warm-up act. If the warm-up act was an hour and Elton John was for forty-five minutes, wouldn’t you be more excited about watching Elton John for forty-five minutes than somebody else for an hour? 
TN:  Your thoughts on Serena’s summer and where she ranks among the greats? 

RC:  Serena has got herself in shape, that’s number one. She’s very eager because she has missed out on a lot of tennis because of injuries. There’s a lot of tennis in her that ordinarily you would not have with someone who is 30. I think she has rededicated herself. I think it happens when you get older that you end up appreciating your sport a lot more because you realize that you are at the tail end. 

TN: You collaborated with Ted Tinling back in the day on some pretty interesting and controversial outfits. What’s your take on today’s tennis fashion? 

RC:  I like the outfits and what have you, but I don’t understand how the same player can wear the same outfit every single day. They’ve got contracts with Nike and all these companies, why wouldn’t you wear a different outfit every single day? It could be the same style, but I would rather see a variety of styles and clothing. I don’t think they could hold a candle to our styles, when we had Ted doing everybody’s individual tennis outfits. I don’t think I’m seeing a lot of style, I’m just seeing a lot of tight spandex, which obviously the young players can pull off because they are fit. 

Two of the players that I think dress the nicest are Venus and Maria Sharapova. They dress well for their physiques. They look great. To me they have great style. 

TN: How special is it for you to watch a Grand Slam final ceremony, see Serena pull down a $2 million check, and know that you were right there at the beginning of all that. Does that make you feel especially good? 

RC:  I don’t know how good it makes me feel to see Serena make $2 million. No, I’d rather have $2 million myself (laughing). I’m glad that women’s tennis has finally made it and they’re making a lot of money, but I’m still waiting to see the pension plan that we don’t have. Many of the players of our generation don’t have pension plans. We’re like the old NFL players. We need to be grandfathered in. We need to find a way to take care of those that made the sport what it is. Although I’m happy that women’s tennis has thrived, it tugs at my heart for sure. We love what our life was and is. All our generation works. Billie Jean has World Team Tennis; I’ve got my sports promotion company. We all are doing odds and ends. But you know what? I’ll take that money any time. I’m happy that they’re millionaires, but we’re not. 

(Photo Credit: Keystone Pictures/ USA


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