Tennis stars celebrated on Avenue of Aces at US Open

Kerry Melville Reid, Peaches Bartkowicz, Valerie Ziegenfuss and Julie Heldman, members of the Original 9, with their plaque on the Avenue of Aces at the 2021 US Open.
September 10, 2021 02:30 PM

Living legends paid a visit to the USTA Foundation's Avenue of Aces at the US Open over the past two days, as the Original 9 and Bob and Mike Bryan were on hand to see themselves honored in brick-and-mortar on the Avenue of Aces at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Photos: Original 9 | Bryan Brothers

Stretching from the East Gate to Arthur Ashe Stadium, the Avenue of Aces is divided into 12 "neighborhoods," with 10 named after a former US Open champion, adorned with brick, bronze and white bronze pavers. Proceeds from the sale of the pavers support the USTA Foundation's mission, funding tennis and education programs for under-resourced youth nationwide. In 2019, King donated to the USTA Foundation to close out her 'neighborhood' and placed bricks for each of the Original 9, plus promoter Gladys Heldman and Althea Gibson. 

The Original 9, made up of King, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Kerry Melville Reid, Julie Heldman, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss and Judy Tegart Dalton, are the pioneering group of women whose protest of pay inequality in men's and women's professional tennis 51 years ago paved the way for the birth of the modern WTA tour. The group was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. earlier this summer, and received their rings in an on-court ceremony between the women's singles semifinals on Thursday night. 

"Who would've thought that 51 years ago, when we made a stand... that 51 years later, we'd be, as my friend Kristy Pigeon says, 'Rock stars!'," Heldman said. "It's wonderful, because people are realizing that the avenues are open for girls and women everywhere, and I'm really, seriously proud that we had a lot to do with that."

This marked the first time that the entire Original 9 saw their pavers in person on the Avenue of Aces, and as a result, this legendary group of women and their social action will live on the avenue for tennis fans in perpetuity. 

"I never could've dreamed it, cannot believe it, but the advancement of the women's game in all of tennis is amazing. We're really proud. This honor is just huge. Back then, I was 21, and it was exciting, but we never could've dreamed that we'd get to this place," Ziegenfuss added. "In comparison, I'm much more emotional and excited about this, entering in the Hall of Fame, it's such a great honor. To have a brick, a paver, paid for by Billie Jean, it's just such an honor. It's overwhelming. Some day, my grand kids are going to come here - it makes me cry - and see their grandma's paver."

A day later, the Bryan brothers also visited their paver in-person for the first time. The five-time US Open men's doubles champions, winners of 18 majors overall, held the world No. 1 ranking for a record 139 consecutive weeks and won a total of 119 doubles titles as a team before their retirement at the end of last year, and were honored for their legendary careers on Sept. 7 on-court in Ashe. The duo have also been longtime supporters of the USTA Foundation and its mission. 

 

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