The eight top names on the women's rankings — minus injured No1 Simona Halep — are gathering in Singapore to contest the WTA Finals, the season's traditional endpiece.

This £5.3 million ($10.5m) event has come a long way from its ancestor: the US$30,000 ($45,500) Caesars Palace World Pro Championships. Played in Las Vegas in 1971, the final pitted Britain's Ann Jones against Billie Jean King, now revered as the founding mother of the women's tour. Last year's Hollywood movie, Battle of the Sexes, underlined King's status as an LGBT trailblazer as well.

King made for a superb figurehead — "Madame Superstar", as she is dubbed in a new book, Driven, by 1970s player Julie Heldman. But the real instigator of the WTA Tour was Julie's mother, the publisher and impresario Gladys Heldman.

As Julie told the No Challenges Remaining podcast: "My mother engineered and started the women's tour. She got the sponsors, players, she got a lot of the tournaments. She was beyond extraordinary."

Gladys, a history graduate who married national junior champion Julius Heldman, only took up the game after her second child was born. Still, Gladys became the top player in Texas within a couple of years.

Heldman worked tirelessly. She founded World Tennis magazine in 1953 and helped salvaged the failing US Open.

Her key ally was Joe Cullman, owner of the Virginia Slims cigarette brand. In 1970, Cullman put up US$2500 to sponsor the Virginia Slims Invitational in Houston — the first professional women's event.


And yet, in Battle of the Sexes, it is King who delivers the key line, "We'll set up our own tournament", and Heldman who replies "Are we really gonna do it?". No wonder her daughter says: "The movie didn't do her any justice at all."

Gladys Heldman might have been brilliant, but she was also cold, controlling and dependent on liquor.

Driven is a riveting read. It is also an important document. For all her flaws, Gladys Heldman deserves better than to be written out of the picture.

- Telegraph Group Ltd