Friday April 6th, 2012

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King was a key member of the 'Original 9' that helped start the WTA in 1970. (SI)

Five For Friday is an end-of-the-week roundup of interesting tidbits from my notebook. This week focuses on my thoughts from Charleston.

1. True Originals: The WTA's "Original 9" -- the founders of the women's pro circuit, Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville Reid and Judy Dalton -- will reunite Saturday for the first time since 1989 at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, S.C. That the reunion will help commemorate the 40th anniversary of the tournament is appropriate. The first Family Circle Cup was held in Hilton Head in 1973 and offered $100,000 in prize money, the most of any tournament outside of the Virginia Slims Championships.

To give context to how quickly women's tennis grew in those early days: In a three-year span after the tour's formation in 1970, women went from not having any tournaments of their own, being banished to outside courts during joint events and getting paid three to eight times less than their male counterparts, to having their own circuit with tournaments that paid out as much as the men. No other men's tournament offered a bigger prize purse than the Family Circle Cup, which was still twice as much as the women were getting at Wimbledon.

The Original 9 will be joined by Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Martina Hingis, Tracy Austin, Virginia Wade, John McEnroe, Aaron Krickstein and Rennae Stubbs for a celebratory exhibition event on Saturday night. If you live within a day's driving distance to Charleston, I'd highly recommend the road trip.

2. Collision course: Are we ready for Williams vs. Williams XXIV? Both Venus and Serena are one win away from clashing in the semifinals in Charleston on Saturday. As Venus said on Thursday, "If we both get to the semifinal, I guess the best Williams will win." Their showdowns have always been complicated, tense affairs and the two haven't dueled since 2009. Serena leads the head-to-head 13-10, including four victories in a row.

3. American doppelgängers: It's hard to watch young players and not want to try to find analogues to help understand their games and predict their futures. Watching four young Americans earlier this week, my mind couldn't fight the urge to make some parallels. So I'll just throw them out there:

• Jamie Hampton's smart, powerful and workmanlike game made me think "American Petko."

• Sloane Stephens' natural athletic talent recalled "American Sveta."

• Christina McHale's effective but no-frills game drew parallels to "American Zvonareva."

• The bubbly Melanie Oudin, who is known more for her perceived failures than her triumphs: "American Ana."

Are your eyes rolling? Let me hear it in the comments.

4. Coachless: Vera Zvonareva and Jelena Jankovic are playing without coaches. Zvonareva seems OK with flying solo -- she actually called her physio, Scott Byrnes, down on court for a coaching timeout -- but Jankovic is a different story. The former No. 1 has lost her first match at three consecutive tournaments. To hear her say it, she needs a coach to give her a good kick in the pants.

"It's difficult like this, not having anyone, and especially when I have to work on some technical things and just get the shot right on track," Jankovic lamented after losing to Venus 7-5, 6-0 on Wednesday. "I'm at the stage of my career where I'm getting older and I need a little more help than maybe before where I could do it at times alone with a hitting partner. But now I think the next few years that I'm going to play, I want to try to give my best and I want to improve. I want to still work hard and try to get better as a player."

The Serb, ranked 17th, said she's in negotiations to hire someone. Anyone who's watched her recently knows she needs a new voice to energize her game and simplify tactics. She looks directionless out there. 5. Miscellany: The line of the week in Charleston goes to the ever-quotable Jankovic, who compared her movement on the green clay to "Bambi on ice." ... I asked Lucie Safarova whether her breakup with Tomas Berdych after a nine-year relationship has made things awkward on tour. She said things ended well between them and there are no hard feelings. ... Happy trails to Amy Binder and Katie Spellman, two WTA communications stalwarts who are leaving the tour for greener pastures. I will miss our Office-like glances during particularly preposterous press conference moments. ... This has been my first time at the Family Circle Cup and I can easily see why the players like it so much. Good attendance, happy fans, a great town, though I have no idea how anyone leaves without gaining 10 pounds.

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