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Casals, Rosemary

Rosemary Casals

1948-

American tennis player

Rosemary Casals teamed with Billie Jean King to become one of the top doubles tandems ever in women's tennis. On the court, Casals disdained the conservative, baseline strategy that had been the trademark of the women's game until the late 1960s. Casals, however, may have been most effective as a rebel off-court. She, along with pioneer King and others, fought for better pay and media attention for the women's game and helped originate the separate pro tour in the 1970s.

She won 11 singles and 112 pro doubles titles overall, including 11 Grand Slam doubles titles, primarily with King. "Tiny package, explosive contents. Tennis was no waiting game at the baseline," longtime tennis journalist Bud Collins wrote of Casals on his web site. "She went for the jugular fast, a serve-and-volleying acrobat whose incredible arsenal of strokes and tankful of competitive verve were necessities merely to stay alive among the sisterhood that established female professional tennis during the 1970s."

Rich Game, Poor Background

Casals, born in San Francisco, was a distant relative of famed cellist Pablo Casals, but grew up poor to parents had moved to the United States from El Salvador. They arranged for Manuel and Maria Casals, her great-uncle and great-aunt, to raise her. Rosemary Casals began playing on the city's free tennis courts at Golden Gate Park; Manuel Casals was her only tennis coach. Ambitious, she insisted on playing against older players in junior tournaments.

At 5-foot-2, Casals faced a distinct height advantage on the court, but her biggest battle may have involved class conflict. Her impoverished background sharply contrasted with the affluence of many peers. Casals, however, channeled her aggressions into her play. With such nicknames as "Rosie" and "Rosebud" fast becoming misnomers, Casals earned a reputation, and popularity among many fans, for charging the net and even launching a shot from between her legs. She also won. She was the top junior and women's level player in Northern California by age 16. One year later she was ranked first in the country.

Her best play was in doubles. She and singles stand-out Billie Jean King teamed up to capture the U.S. hard-court and indoor tournaments in 1966, and in 1967, they prevailed in women's doubles at Wimbledon and the U.S. championships (later the U.S. Open), and also the South African championships. Casals and King became the only tandem to win U.S. titles on grass, clay, indoor and hard surfaces.

But her success as a doubles player meant that Casals's individual play was underappreciated. She rose to third in singles in 1970. Over her 15 years, Casals was 12 times in the top 10. She reached at least the quarterfinals in all four major tournaments.

Fought for Women's Improvements

Casals, drawing on her upbringing, helped lead the crusade to end what she felt was discrimination against players from poorer backgrounds. Major tournaments such as Wimbledon admitted only amateurs, who were independently wealthy, Other players, Casals said, had to take money to keep playing. Pure amateurs were independently wealthy. The "open format" was introduced in 1968, allowing both amateur and professional players to play in the same tournaments. In 1970, Casals and other leading women's players threatened to boycott major tournaments, and after the United States Lawn Tennis Association rebuffed their demands, the women began their own event, the Virginia Slims International.

"Billie Jean King and protege Rosie Casals [were] names that went together like wine and roses," Bud Collins wrote in his Bud Collins' Tennis Encyclopedia biography, published on the International Tennis Hall of Fame website. "But all the while their influence as pioneering pros ran deeper than the five Wimbledon and two U.S. titles together. Although Rosie, the riveting volleyer, is the smallest modern in the tennis valhalla, she and Billie Jean were giants in launching the long march of the 'Long Way Babies' as the Virginia Slims circuit began to take shape in 1970." The Slims circuit is the forerunner to today's WTA Tour.

"It was becoming increasingly clear that the women players were being left with little more than the crumbs from the way a male-dominated game divided the prize money, as Open tennis, which only began in 1968, began to expand and flourish," wrote John Parsons of the London Daily Telegraph on the WTA Tour's Web site. "Matters came to head only a couple of weeks after Margaret Smith Court had earned barely one third of the amount collected by the men's singles champion for winning the women's singles title at the (1970) U.S. Openand with it the Grand Slam."

Casals also found herself at odds with Wimbledon officials in 1972 when she wore a purple-patterned white dress designed by "The Leaning Tower of Pizzazz," Briton Ted Tinling. Tournament coordinators insisted Casals leave the court and return wearing all-white. Casals later claimed that the dress she wore became so famous that it won a place in the tennis hall of fame before she herself did.

Slims Tour Takes Shape

Gladys Heldman of World Tennis magazine, also a Hall of Famer, put up $5,000 of her own money and provided operational help to King and Casals. "B.J. and Rosie were the ringleaders on court, close doubles partners, (and) frequent final-round saleswomen for the emerging tour," Collins wrote. "They were perfect role players, feisty but good-humored kids off the public courts who believed women had a destiny in professional sport."

In 1971, the first full year of the Slims tour, Casals competed in a record 32 tournaments in singles, 31 in doubles-in all, 205 matches. King played in 210. "More than 200 matches in a season? Steffi Graf has played as many as 117 only once," Collins wrote. By then, the USTA and other associations had lifted their sanctions. In 1973 Casals, who competed in a record 685 singles and doubles tournaments throughout her career, won the first large-pay tournament, collecting $30,000 with the Family Circle Cup, while defeating King and clay-court specialist Nancy Richey.

Chronology

1948 Born November 16 in San Francisco, California
1970 Helped organize threat to boycott traditional tournaments if pay for women's tennis players not increased
1971 Virginia Slims women's tour commences
1972 Wimbledon official orders Casals to change out of purple-lined white dress, citing tournament policy
1973 Network TV commentator on "Battle of the Sexes" exhibition tennis match between King and Bobby Riggs
1974 Appeared in episode of ABC-TV series "Love American Style."

Awards and Accomplishments

1966 Wins U.S. hardcourt and indoor championships with doubles partner Billie Jean King
1967 Casals and King capture Wimbledon and U.S. Open women's doubles championships
1968 Repeats Wimbledon doubles title with King
1970 Wimbledon mixed doubles champion with Ilie Nastase
1970-71 Casals and King win consecutive Wimbledon doubles titles
1971 U.S. Open women's doubles champion with Judy Tegart Dalton
1972 Wimbledon mixed doubles champion with Nastase
1973 Captures fifth Wimbledon's doubles title with King
1973 Wins Family Circle Cup championship and first prize of $30,000, considered major payout at the time
1974 U.S. Open women's doubles champion with King
1982 U.S. Open women's doubles champion with Wendy Turnbull
1990 Wins U.S. Open Seniors' women's doubles title with King
1996 Inducted into International Tennis Hall of Fame

Casals won eight of her 10 Grand Slam doubles titles playing with King. She also won the U.S. Open with Judy Tegart Dalton in 1971 and with Ilie Nastase, in mixed doubles, in 1975. She and Nastase took Wimbledon mixed doubles in 1970 and 1972. "For sheer shot-making sorcery, plus merrymaking on one side of the net, the amalgam of Casals and Ilie Nastase, winning the Wimbledon mixed in 1970 and 1972, may never be equalled," Collins wrote.

Casals was also a commentator on the ABC telecast of the "battle of the sexes" exhibition match in September, 1973, between King and Bobby Riggs at Houston's Astrodome. It drew 30,472 spectators, a tennis record. Some media critics railed over the choice of Casals, because of her longstanding affiliation and friendship with King. Riggs was known for trumpeting male athletic superiority. King won 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in a match seen as a publicity breakthrough for women's sports.

Where Is She Now?

In a last hurrah with King, Rosemary Casals and her partner won the U.S. Open Seniors women's doubles championship in 1990. Today, Casals, who lives in Sausalito, California, has added golf to her hobbies, organizes tennis tournaments and competes annually in the Wimbledon and U.S. Open senior invitationals. She also occasionally competes in exhibitions. She founded her Sportswoman Inc. in 1982 to promote a women's classic tour for older players. She also began a television production company, Midnight Productions.

Casals served on the board of the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee, which attempted to get San Francisco the bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. San Francisco was runner-up to New York as U.S. finalist.

Later Years

In the mid-1970s, Casals also joined another new venture, World Team Tennis, in which teams consisting of two women and four men apiece traveled across the U.S. Casals played for the Detroit Loves and Oakland Breakers and coached the Los Angeles Strings. She retired shortly after having knee surgery in 1978. The International Tennis Hall of Fame inducted her in 1996. "Doubles was her shtick, 56 of them with King," Collins wrote. "But Rosie was a singles contender at all the majors. She just wanted to be the best ever. Inch-for-inch she wasand the fun flowed in all directions from this diminutive dynamo who took such joy from playing, and passed it all along to grateful witnesses."

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Altman, Linda Jacobs. Rosemary Casals: The Rebel Rosebud. St. Paul: EMC Corp., 1975.

Thacher, Alida M. Raising a Racket: Rosie Casals. Chicago: Children's Press, 1976.

Other

Collins, Bud. "Rosie Casals, Class of 1996." International Tennis Hall of Fame, http://www.tennisfame.org/enshrinees/rosie_casals.html, (January 11, 2003).

Gale Group, Women's History Month, http://www.galegroup.com/free_resources/whm/bio/casals_r.htm, (January 6, 2003).

"The Week's Famous and Infamous Women." Women's Stories, http://writetools.com/women/stories/casals_rosemary.html (January 6, 2003).

Sketch by Paul Burton

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