Class of 1996
World No. 3 (1970)
Grand Slam Results
12-time major champion, 17-time finalist
Overall Record: 1103-539
Singles Record: 595-325
Doubles Record: 508-214
Member of the U.S. Federation Cup Team 1967, 1976-1981
Member of the U.S. Championship Federation Cup Team 1967, 1976-1981
Overall Record: 34-2
Singles Record: 8-1
Doubles Record: 26-1
Member of the U.S. Wightman Cup Team 1967, 1976-1982
Member of the winning team 1967, 1976, 1977, 1979-1982
Rosemary “Rosie” Casals was both a tennis player and a pioneer of the women’s professional game. On court the 5-foot-2 dynamo played at a breakneck speed, running down every ball and pounding back returns with punch and power, flair, and creativity. Off the court, her pursuit of equality between the women’s and men’s games was just as bombastic. She didn’t politely ask that women be paid the same as men’s players she demanded it and made no apologies.
Casals was born in San Francisco, California, the daughter of parents who immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. As a youth she had spunk and fire, teaching herself tennis on San Francisco’s public courts and finding playing partners anyway she could. Casals felt stigmatized by her economic background; fueling her tennis game and creating an acceptance that money couldn’t buy. By age 16 she had become a top junior player in Northern California and at age 17 was ranked No. 11 in the United States. In an interview with People Magazine in 1983, Casals said, “The other kids had nice tennis clothes, nice rackets, nice white shoes, and came in Cadillacs.”
Those other kids likely never rose to the world No. 3 ranking in singles in 1970, won 12 major doubles and mixed doubles championships, played for the US Open Championship singles title in 1970 and 1971, and wore brightly colored tennis dresses designed specially by the apparel maestro Ted Tinling. In fact, in 1972 Wimbledon official ordered Casals to change out of her Tinling-designed purple and white dress, citing it violated tournament policy. Casals was always rebellious, even on tennis’s most hallowed grounds.
Casals found her haven playing tennis, carrying a chip on her shoulder that she said “leveled the playing field.” When Casals met Billie Jean King at the Berkeley Tennis Club in 1964 finals, the two forged partnership that slanted doubles competition in their direction for nine years. Casals, who was a pesky, swift, and grinding baseliner in singles, found her niche playing doubles. From 1966 to 1975, she and King won seven major doubles titles and were finalists seven times. In her career, Casals won 112 professional doubles titles – second all-time to 177 earned by Martina Navratilova’s – 56 of which came with King.
The Casals-King tandem became the face of women’s doubles, competing for championships on the court and crusading for equal prize money for women’s professional players off the court, which in 1968, was as much as ten times less than their male counterparts. Though they played the game differently, Casals wearing her emotions on her sleeve with ever-present grit and determination and King more controlled and balanced, the pair attacked the game similarly – with focused tenacity and purpose. Not only were they playing for a place in the women’s tennis championship history, but also building a foundation that would make the women’s game strong and financially prosperous for decades to come.
The duo won their first major at 1967 Wimbledon, defeating quality opponents in Maria Bueno and Nancy Richey, 9-11, 6-4, 6-2. A U.S. Nationals championship with King was captured later that year. On the grass at Wimbledon, Casals and King won five championships (1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1973). Casals was a French Open finalist in 1968, 1970, 1982, and advanced to the Australian finals in 1971. Casals and King are the only doubles team in history to win the U.S. Championship on all three surfaces.
Mixed doubles created a fun and frolicking partnership with the entertaining Ilie Năstase, and the pair was successful in winning two major championships, Wimbledon in 1970 and 1972. Casals’s third mixed doubles title was earned at the US Open alongside Dick Stockton in 1975, a 6-3, 7-6 victory over King and Fred Stolle.
Casals, who had always maintained that “tennis was all I ever wanted,” won 11 professional singles titles and was a major singles finalist twice, both at the US Open. In 1970 as the No. 2 seed, she went toe-to-toe with No. 1 seed Margaret Court, falling in a well-played final, 2–6, 6–2, 1–6. The following year, she faced longtime doubles partner King in another final pitting No. 1 vs. No. 2, but King was much too strong that afternoon, prevailing 6-4, 7-6.
Casals and King were committed to earning a living from playing tennis, and the $4,000 she made traveling the circuit her first year wasn’t going to suffice, though at the time Casals said, “I thought I was rich.” But Casals saw severe inequities between the men’s and women’s game – everything from organization, respect and prize money. “We knew this wasn’t right,” Casals maintained, so parlaying alongside the “women’s movement” that was gaining momentum in the 1970s, Casals and King led the charge to change professional women’s tennis. Along with Gladys Heldman, the outspoken publisher of World Tennis Magazine, the trio secured a considerable financial sponsorship from Phillip Morris Chief Executive Director Joe Cullman, and in 1970 the Virginia Slims Tour was launched with the catchy slogan, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.”
The two were part of the Original 9 (Richey, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville Reid, and Judy Tegart Dalton) who signed one dollar contracts for the lucrative 10 week tour that finally brought women’s tennis to the forefront. Casals won the first Virginia Slims Tournament played in September 1970 in Houston, defeating Aussie Judy Tegart Dalton, 5–7, 6–1, 7–5. For their part, once the tour went into full swing in 1971, King and Casals played non-stop tennis; King playing 36 singles and 21 doubles tournaments, 210 overall matches, and Casals competing in 32 singles and 31 doubles tournaments, 205 matches total. Recalling those inaugural days on tour, King has often said, “We played our little bahoolas off.”
In her career, Casals amassed 595 wins in singles and 508 in doubles and was ranked among the world’s top 10 players in 12 seasons. She was a prominent part of the Fed Cup Team, winning seven championships (1970, 1976-1981) and on the Wightman Cup Team where she added another seven titles (1967, 1976-77, 1979-82).
Casals, who was always fiery and tenacious, was nicknamed Rosebud to her fans, but she had another nickname amongst her peers. “We actually nicknamed Rosie ‘general’,” King said.
Australian Championships: SF 1967
French Open: QF 1969, 1970
Wimbledon: SF 1967, 1969, 1970, 1972
US Open: F 1970, 1971
Australian Open: F 1969
French Open: F 1968, 1970, 1982
Wimbledon: W 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1973
U.S. Nationals/US Open: W 1967, 1971, 1974, 1982
Australian Open: SF 1969
French Open: SF 1968, 1970, 1972
Wimbledon: W 1970, 1972
US Open: W 1975