The Family Circle Cup held in Charleston, South Carolina is one of the longest running WTA events on the calendar. In many ways, this event is a cornerstone tournament for women’s tennis and continues to be one of the most popular stops on tour each year. Played on green clay or Har-Tru as it is known, Charleston serves for some as the official kick-off to the clay court season.
Started in 1973, the event was first held at Hilton Head, South Carolina. With the newly formed WTA tour still trying to make its mark in the professional sports world, the Family Circle Cup proved to be an important event as it was the first women’s tournament to offer a $100,000 total purse and the first to be broadcast on national television.
The maiden final was contested between Rosie Casals and Nancy Richey with Casals winning 3-6, 6-1, 7-5. Casals won $30,000 in prize money, an amount then that was one of the largest prize checks ever awarded to a female player. Billie Jean King said afterwards about the final that though it wasn’t the best match due to players being nervous, it was still a momentous moment for the nascent tour as it proved women’s tennis could be viable.
Chris Evert became the event’s winningest champion taking the title seven times from 1974-1978, 1981, 1984-1985.
In subsequent years, some of the sport’s biggest stars played and won the event. Steffi Graf won the title four times with Martina Navratilova winning three times. Gabriela Sabatini, Martina Hingis, Justine Henin, Venus Williams and Jennifer Capriati are among the other notable title winners.
Though the event was held for two years at Amelia Island, Florida in the mid-70’s, the tournament remained at Hilton Head until 2000. The tournament then moved to Daniel Island just outside of Charleston in 2001 to a new permanent facility. The event was upgraded in status from a Tier 1 to a Premier event in 2009. This year, the event has a total prize money purse of almost $800,000. Family Circle continues to be the title sponsor.
In recent years, the event has had a mix of different champions with some winning their first ever titles at the tournament. In 2009, Sabine Lisicki upset Caroline Wozniacki to win her maiden WTA title. Sam Stosur picked up her second career WTA title there in 2010 and used that success to fuel her to reaching the finals of Roland Garros later that year. Wozniacki won the title for the first in 2011 followed by Serena Williams in 2012.
Last year, the event celebrated the reunion of the “Original 9” – the nine women who helped formed what would become the modern WTA. Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Judy Dalton, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville and Billie Jean King returned to Charleston to celebrate the historical moment and King herself was honored by having the Center Court named after her in a special ceremony.