The reinvention of Rosie Casals

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Bill Marchese

Rosie Casals conducts tennis events at Indian Ridge Country Club in Palm Desert, where she also lives.
Photo by Bill Marchese

Tennis star Rosie Casals may have finished as a professional player, but tennis is not finished with her.

The National Tennis Hall of Fame member rose in tennis world in the 1960s and 1970s as one of the top five tennis players in the United States and remained there for 11 years. She is a seven-time Wimbledon doubles champion, winning five women’s doubles tournaments with Billie Jean King, who remains a close friend to this day. Casals owns a total of 12-time Grand Slam doubles titles.

The accolades for the Palm Desert resident go on and on for her successful sports career. In recent years, she has reinvented herself through her company, Sportswoman, Inc., which she launched in 1982.

 “Sportswoman is my way of staying in touch with the tennis world and my friends and giving back to the community,” she said. “Tennis is still my life.”

Through Sportswoman, Casals promotes local charity tennis events, “I also do a charity event with Billie Jean King once a year to raise funds for her alma mater, Cal State University,” she said.

One of Casals’ fundraising events is the “Rosie Casals & Jackie Cooper” team tennis Pro-Am, which provides financial aid and grants to local juniors and organizations to promote junior tennis in the Coachella Valley. The tourney teams up amateur, professionals and juniors in a doubles Round Robin. Open to everyone at all levels, the teams consist of one professional, one junior and two amateur players, a great learning experience. Held at Indian Ridge Country Club, where Casals lives, the event raised $35,000 last April.

“We hope to get 40 to 60 teams together this year,” Casals said. The next tournament is scheduled for April.

In addition to charity events, Casals organizes exhibitions with pro tennis players, clinics to help players improve their game, corporate outings and speaking tours

You’ve come a long way, baby

Women have reached parity with men in tennis. But it has taken time. Look at Serena Williams, a millionaire with 21 grand slams. Roger Federer only has 17.

“Women have come a long way since the 1970s,” Casals said, true to the pitch of Virginia Slims cigarettes, which promoted women in sports and other fields with the slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

 In 1973, a famous man vs. woman “Battle of the Sexes” professional tennis match pitted Billie Jean King against Bobby Riggs. King won the match 6-4, 6-3 and 6-3. 

Casals said that “Women’s tennis helped put women’s sports on the map,” and it helped promote Title IX in public schools, which put male and female funding and opportunities on equal footing.

The money in tennis has increased dramatically over the years. There was not much money in the sport when Casals started: “We played for the joy and the love of the game. Today it’s about money.”

Billie Jean King played 30 tournaments to earn $100,000 in the 1970s. She was the first female tennis player to do so. Serena and Venus Williams earn in the millions, counting tournament winnings and endorsements.

Casals won $30,000 in the first Family Circle Cup in 1973, the first women’s tennis match covered nationally by NBC-TV. It was the most money ever awarded to a man or woman playing tennis. Still in her teens at the time, she celebrated by spending $20,000 of her winnings on a new Mercedes Benz 450SL. A bit more conservative now, she still drives a Mercedes 450SL, only a newer version.

Climb to success

As children, Casals and her older sister lived with their great uncle and aunt near downtown San Francisco. She always referred to them as her mom and dad. He was a recreational tennis player who introduced her to the game and gave her lessons.

Casals recalls playing tennis at age eight on weekends when her dad drove her to public courts at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. She played singles, doubles and mixed, and learned by doing. It paid off: She was inducted into the Marin County Hall of Fame in 1995, the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. In between, she traveled the world playing tennis.

In 1964 at the Berkeley Tennis Club, Casals met Billie Jean Moffitt (later, King), then a 20-year-old ranked Number 4 in the world. It was a turning point in Casals’ life. Then 15, Casals marveled at King’s drive and world-class persona. Recognizing her talent and skill, King asked Casals to play doubles with her at Wimbledon in 1966. In 1970 they would play together in the Virginia Slims Tour. Altogether, 50 percent of Casals’ doubles wins came while playing with King.

Her long singles career slowed down with a knee injury after the age of 30. In 1988 at the age of 39, Casals paired up with Martina Navratilova to win the last of her 112 career doubles titles.

Although Casals no longer plays professional tennis, she has stayed in the game through her Sportswoman projects. “It’s great to find a purpose in your life, reasons to get up in the morning and be somewhere.”

For more information about Sportswoman, Inc. and its programs, email Rosie Casals at sportswomn@aol.com