Judy Dalton was 32 when she was runner-up to Rosie Casals at the infamous Virginia Slims Invitation in Houston in 1970. During her career Dalton (née Tegart) won nine Grand Slam doubles titles (including five with Margaret Court) and achieved the 'Career Grand Slam'. In singles, she reached the Wimbledon final in 1968, upsetting Court and Nancy Richey before succumbing to Billie Jean King, 97 75. In fact, from Wimbledon in 1967 until her retirement (aged 40) after the 1977 Australian Open, Dalton reached at least the quarters in 10 of the 20 Slams played. She also built an 18-4 record in Federation Cup, and was a member of two victorious squads.
I know exactly what I did with my prize money from Houston. My husband, David, and I had just bought a house in Melbourne, and I sent most of it home to help pay it off. In fact, as payments became more regular with the new Virginia Slims Tour, I'd keep $100 for spending money - which was quite a lot of money back then - and send the rest back to David in a cheque. The girls used to laugh at me, but between us David and I paid off the house quite nicely. I know our bank manager, who I'd known since childhood, was impressed!
Before there was a Tour, I actually worked as an accountant when I wasn't playing tennis. In those days, the LTAA wouldn't let any of us - men or women - play more than six months of the year. These days that would be called restraint of trade! Some of the guys went and played as pros in places like South Africa, Hong Kong and Italy but the rest of us had to come back. I had a friend who owned an accounting firm and so I studied chartered accountancy. I got through about two thirds of the exams... although I never finished, I have to say it came in very handy in the end.
The politicking in tennis was really hard, but when we signed the $1 contracts we knew it was the right thing to do. I'd helped circulate a questionnaire at Forest Hills, which asked for the public's views on women's tennis. Some male fans actually said they enjoyed it more because they could associate their own games with it. While we did see the bigger picture of equality, I don't think we really realized what a tumultuous thing it would turn out to be. Billie Jean took the greatest risk, because she could have played anywhere, but she was determined to challenge the status quo. For that I admire her greatly, because the Tour wouldn't have gone ahead if she hadn't of signed
They were pretty severe on us all, when you think about it. Especially in Australia… the LTAA really hit Kerry and me hard. I mean, I couldn't play with my Slazenger racquet, we couldn't play in tournaments. In fairness, Wilson was fantastic - they gave us all the stuff that we wanted and did what they could to help. From memory, I used Wilson racquets for two years. And Gladys Heldman… she was just wonderful. She kept in touch with me all the time, either by phone - and in those days people didn't call as they do now - or by telegram, reassuring me and keeping me up to date.
My disillusionment with the establishment actually went back to 1968, when I played Billie Jean at Wimbledon
. The Australian association gave me £150 to live on, for three weeks in England. The prize money was more like £450, but I wasn't allowed to keep it. When I tell young ones this they laugh at me. Not long ago I was at the French Open
with some junior girls and they received 1,100 francs a day. We got five francs, which would buy a cup of tea and a ham or cheese sandwich.
In the early days of the Tour, those who lost early would go straight to the next tournament and do the promotion. Each tournament typically had a women's committee that was in charge of selling the tickets, but we had to get the people interested to go and buy the tickets. Shopping centers, clinics, all sorts of things. And even in those days, people would come up to us and say, 'Cigarette smoking is terrible, you shouldn't be doing this.' It didn't happen very much, but it did happen, and it was pretty hard to take. We'd insist that Philip Morris wasn't encouraging us to smoke and that they were doing a good thing by supporting us. Sometimes it wasn't easy to convince people.
If you're lucky enough to play one perfect match in your lifetime, that's terrific. I played what I call two perfect matches. The first was against Nancy in the semis at Wimbledon
, after I'd beaten Margaret in the quarters. I didn't play badly in the final, because I nearly beat Billie, just not as well as I had in the semis. Years after we married, David, who didn't know me at the time but had seen the match, said, 'If you'd believed you could win, you would have won that match.' I think he was right. I'd been in a few doubles finals but it's not the same, and if you have the experience it counts for an awful lot. So my regret would be that I didn't believe that I was capable of winning things. I won the German and got to the semis of everything, but I never won the Australian. I suspect it's because I didn't think I was good enough to win.
Strangely enough, the other match I remember was in a veterans' event in Florida. I beat their No.1, who had never lost, love and love.
In any case, Wimbledon
was my favorite tournament, and serve and volley was my strength. When I was little, that was really all I could do… then I had to learn how to do groundstrokes and other things. But I think that's the easier way to do it. The first tennis book I ever read was by Alice Marble and it was called Wings on My Tennis Shoes
. I met her years and years later, and it was lovely. She wasn't really an idol because she was a really good friend, but I admired Maureen Connolly so much. She was lefthanded, and they made her play tennis righthanded. Then she went through all that adversity and I was there when she was really sick.
Last year, David died suddenly on our farm near Ballarat. He'd had treatment for cancer about six years ago, but before that we were growing organic berries such as strawberries, blueberries and gooseberries, as well as 18 different varieties of salad leaf. We'd go to markets and supply restaurants round and about. We did that for about eight years, but when David got sick I couldn't do it all by myself so I just concentrated on the berries. I'm still looking after the farm but I won't stay here. My son, Edward, has been living in Scotland with his family and they are returning to Australia in November; my two little granddaughters, Sophie and Abby, are sure to keep me busy! My daughter, Sammi, works for (shadow treasurer) Joe Hockey in Canberra.
These days I'm still involved in tennis as president of Australia's Fed Cup Foundation. During the week of the Medibank International in Sydney we run a tournament for under 14 boys and girls from all the country areas around Australia. And I do some commentary for the ABC. I just think it's terrific there are so many players from so many countries now. I don't think we really could have dreamed tennis would become such an international sport - even though there were Russian players, we always thought they'd be so restricted from playing. You've got to admire them: They work so hard and are so keen to do well. The traditional tennis nations could learn a thing or two.
Interview by Adam Lincoln, September 2010