It’s impossible to separate Rosemary “Rosie” Casals the tennis player from Rosie Casals the pioneer of the women’s professional game. On court the 5-foot-2 dynamo played at a breakneck speed, running down every ball and pounding back returns with punch and power, flair and creativity. Off the court, her pursuit of equality between the women’s and men’s games was just as bombastic. She didn’t politely ask that women be paid the same as men’s players, she demanded it and made no apologies.
Casals found her haven playing tennis, carrying a chip on her shoulder that she said “leveled the playing field.” When Casals, then 16, met Billie Jean King, 20, at the Berkeley Tennis Club in 1964 finals, the two forged partnership that slanted doubles competition in their direction for nine years.
The Casals-King tandem became the face of women’s doubles, competing for championships on the court and crusading for equal prize money for women’s professional players off the court, which in 1968, was as much as ten times less than their male counterparts. Not only were they playing for a place in the women’s tennis championship history, but also building a foundation that would make the women’s game strong and financially prosperous for decades to come.
The duo won their first major at 1967 Wimbledon, defeating quality opponents in Maria Bueno and Nancy Richey, 9-11, 6-4, 6-2. A U.S. Open Championship with King was captured later that year. On the grass at Wimbledon, Casals and King won five championships (1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, and 1973). Casals was a French Open finalist in 1968, 1970, 1982 and advanced to the Australian finals in 1971. Casals and King are the only doubles team in history to win the U.S. Championship on all three surfaces.
In her career, Casals amassed 595 wins in singles and 508 in doubles and was ranked among the world’s top 10 players in 12 seasons. She was a prominent part of the Fed Cup Team, winning seven championships (1970, 1976-1981) and on the Wightman Cup Team where she added another seven titles (1967, 1976-77, 1979-82).
Casals, who was always fiery and tenacious, was nicknamed Rosebud.
“We actually nicknamed Rosie ‘General’,” King said.