The Women’s Tennis Association celebrates its 40th birthday today as the sport is given an opportunity to look back with pride on the huge tracts of geographical, cultural and financial land it has covered since 1973.
Events like the Battle of the Sexes, the meeting at the Gloucester Hotel in London that spawned the organisation and the then ground-breaking Virginia Slims circuit seem to belong to as much to a different world as time.
And so it will be in another four decades when the women’s game will have an outpost in every area of the globe and arguments about equal prize money and whether women should play three or five sets will be long since settled.
Certainly, even as it pays tribute to its heroines like Billie Jean King and Birmingham’s Ann Jones, the governing body already has its eyes set on the future, breaking new markets in India and Brazil and increasing the prize-money from $118m, including the majors, to an even more stratospheric figure.
And the WTA chief executive Stacey Allaster sees the Aegon Classic and Birmingham as key to that evolution, having witnessed first hand how far the site at Edgbaston Priory Club has come in the last couple of years.
In an exclusive interview with the Birmingham Post, the most powerful woman in the female game expressed her joy at the £12m redevelopment of Priory and congratulated those responsible for earning the event’s elevation to Premier status from 2014.
“I couldn’t be more excited for the WTA to have the Aegon event here, this is a world class facility, it’s fantastic for the players and the fans,” Allaster said. “My hats off to everyone at the club for what has been created.
“I came a couple of years ago for the tournament’s 30th anniversary and at that stage they had just announced the project. Since then their dreams have come true.
“I am not surprised at how it’s come together.
“There has been great leadership at the club and support from the LTA and Wimbledon.
“They had a clear vision of what they wanted to create and they have done it. But it has certainly exceeded my expectations.”
That progress, the construction of a new indoor tennis centre, the development of a new permanent show court and the refurbishment of the clubhouse earned the Classic a promotion up the WTA’s tournament ranking.
That means from next year, the event will share the same footing as other high-profile, pre-Grand Slam competitions like Eastbourne and Sydney, which will enable it to attract at least one top ten player and probably more.
The prize-pot will go up from $250k to $600k and the ranking points will virtually double, making it a far more worthwhile event for the leading players, relevant after a year when they didn’t have a top 20 star.
But Allaster believes the new facilities could have bearing on other events throughout the tennis calendar too.
“There are only 22 Premier events in all, so for Birmingham to be upgraded is a really significant opportunity for the club,” she said.
“I am thrilled they have stepped up with the LTA, and it leads into the Wimbledon strategy on the three weeks on grass and it gets aligned with a world class facility for the Aegon Classic.
“I think this would be a fantastic venue for Fed Cup.
“As I was sitting watching (Sunday’s final between Daniela Hantuchova and Donna Vekic) I was thinking ‘This is a perfect environment’.
“It’s the right size stadium, you want to keep an intimate stadium, grass is an advantage for the Brits because other countries don’t play on grass. And you have all of the amenities from the training room to the clubhouse to host an international competition like Fed Cup or Davis Cup.”
That thought has certainly occurred to some at Priory and it is not too difficult to imagine one of the international tournaments returning to the second city after an absence of several years.
The National Indoor Arena and the National Exhibition Centre have both hosted Great Britain’s men in recent times but niether have the advantage of playing on grass.
There is also a suggestion a men’s event could be brought to Priory but for now, even with all the changes, the venue will be best thought of as an increasingly important date on the WTA Tour and part of its glorious history. Dan Evans handed wild card entry for AEGON Championship at Queen's Club