By Randy Walker
You’ve come a long way baby.
Thus was the slogan of the founding days of the WTA tour, coined by the tour’s original sponsor Virginia Slims. It couldn’t be more appropriate to modern day women’s tennis.
Playing 40 years to the day of when Margaret Court collected the first equal first-prize paycheck in Grand Slam tournament history by winning the 1973 US Open singles title, Serena Williams collected the richest payout in tennis history – $3.6 million – by winning the 2013 U.S. Open women’s singles final with a topsy-turvy 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 win over Victoria Azarenka.
Williams earned the first-prize paycheck of $2.6 million and earned an extra $1 million bonus for winning the Emirates Airlines US Open Series title, making her the first woman – and only fourth player (man or woman) – to surpass $9 million in single season earnings ($9,065,086), joining Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, while also pushing her career earnings past $50 million. When Court won her singles title 40 years ago Sunday, she earned $25,000, historically the same amount of money that men’s singles champion John Newcombe earned, but $7,000 less than what first-round losers earned at the 2013 US Open.
Court’s victory 40 years ago over Evonne Goolagong gave her the distinction of being the oldest woman to win a major singles title, another ceiling that Williams shattered, taking that mantle from Court, winning the championship at 31 years, 256 days, being 211 days older than when Court won her fifth and final U.S. singles title. Court’s title, however, was her 24th major singles title, a feat that Williams is now seven majors shy of equaling, but her fifth US Open singles title leaves her one shy of tying Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for fourth place all-time. Steffi Graf is No. 2 all-time with 22 majors and Helen Wills Moody is No. 3 with 19.
Williams led Azarenka in the final by a set and 4-1 – with two service breaks – and served for the championship two times in the second set at 5-4 and 6-5, but was unable to close out the pesky world No. 2 from Belarus.
The final was the longest on record at the US Open – two hours and 45 minutes – five minutes longer than the 1981 US Open final that saw Tracy Austin beat Martina Navratilova 1-6. 7-6, 7-6.
Beyond the “Open Era” of the tournament, Williams is the oldest U.S. women’s champion since 32-year-old Margaret Osborne duPont won the U.S. singles title in 1950.