On September 28, two figures in women’s tennis—models in the sports and social landscapes—made notable appearances at C2 Montréal, the international event at the intersection of commerce and creativity (C2) launched in 2012.
Of course, the topics of inclusion and equality were the crux of their discussions.
With less than two weeks before the International Day of the Girl, an annual observance first declared by the United Nations on October 11, 2012, and meant to support more opportunities for girls and increase awareness of the gender inequality faced by girls, the media coverage of the event couldn’t have come at a better time.
And just 16 months ago, Tennis Canada and the National Bank launched the 10-year Girls. Set. Match strategy, which leads meaningful change to promote gender equality in tennis.
What better way to illustrate the initiative than by recalling Billie Jean King’s own journey? From her girlhood dreams to her Grand Slam crowns and the creation of the pioneering Original Nine, she is among the global sports icons of the past 50 years.
And Rebecca Marino’s story, too: her admirable path that made Canadian headlines and has been a hot topic for reporters in every city on the Tour where the World No.80 has competed since returning to tennis five years ago.
Before Ms. King’s appearance on stage, Marino and Radio-Canada journalist Valérie-Micaela Bain had the chance to sit down with the tennis legend.
Rebecca remembered the time she met Billie Jean King at an event organized by the WTA about 12 years ago.
“We could ask her questions,” Marino told Radio-Canada. “She motivated and inspired us. She’s a pioneer in women’s sports and equality.”
Marino then mentioned how difficult it still is for women to be awarded the same prize money as their male counterparts at tournaments outside the Grand Slam championships. In 1973, the U.S. Open was a forerunner when it started out handing the same cheques to both champions. Melbourne only followed suit in 2001, Wimbledon in 2006 and Roland-Garros in 2007.
Rebecca Marino will tell you that more efforts are still needed on the part of tennis leaders.
“I don’t know why there are fewer women’s tournaments, but we talk about it a lot amongst ourselves. And our Player Council is pushing for more,” said Marino. “We need more opportunities for women. I’m glad the prize money is the same at the Slams. That’s a good start, and I hope the other tournaments will follow.”
“We’re lucky that tennis gets a lot more visibility compared to other sports, but I still feel like the conversation is dominated by men’s tennis. That said, we’ve seen movement and change over the past few years, and there’s more and more women’s tennis on TV,” she continued.
In 2011, at the age of 21, Rebecca Marino rose as high as No.38 in the WTA rankings. Two years later, in February 2013, she’d played only two matches in the season when she decided to leave tennis behind. The expectations and pressure on social media were difficult to handle and pushed her into depression.
But that wasn’t the end.
While it may not be as famous as Billie Jean King’s, Rebecca’s story is making its way and will remain a source of inspiration for any girl who’s doubting her possibilities for decades to come.
Today, at 31, Rebecca Marino isn’t thinking about retirement. Among the challenges that lie ahead for her is defending Canada as part of the national squad at the world’s leading team tennis event: Billie Jean King Cup.