If you want to go back to the roots of the WTA's growth in Asia, go to the woman who took it there. Billie Jean King, founder of the WTA and now an ambassador for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, remembers the first time she stepped on Asian soil with a bag full of tennis rackets.
"It was in 1971 in Japan," said King, who is in Singapore to support the tour's first staging of its year-end championships in Asia. "We were the first women's professional athletes to go to Japan. I loved going there. For me it was very peaceful.
"We had so much fun with the media. They would always meet us at the airport. We were getting off these long flights and we weren't looking so good. And they always asked what was our favorite color. I thought that was so cute."
King credits the WTA getting its boots on the ground back then for the growth of Asian tennis, particularly in Japan. The country has produced an array of great players like Ai Sugiyama and the indomitable Kimiko Date-Krumm, who continues to play on the tour in her 40s. That's no coincidence.
"I think that's why we had so many Japanese women get really good because we went there in 1971 and started it," King said. "And I think that was the beginning of Asian tennis for women."
From the seeds sown in Japan the popularity and support of women's tennis has continued throughout Asia, as punctuated by the WTA Finals in Singapore. Next year the inaugural WTA Elite Trophy will be hosted in picturesque Zhuhai, China. This year the WTA Finals hosted a fan-voted field of WTA Rising Stars, which included two players from Asia in Zarina Diyas and Zheng Saisai. It also gave young juniors from Asia an opportunity to shine, inviting a field of 24 juniors from Asia to compete in the Future Stars tournament.
King, as much a humanitarian as tennis legend, strongly believes that tennis' commitment in Asia is not just about forehands and backhands. It's about inspiring women, young and old, to stand up and be powerful.
"That's one reason I care about equal prize money," King said. "It's about empowering women to be the best that they can be and asking what you want and need. Ask for a raise if you need it. Negotiate your pay for your first job."
During her State Of The WTA address on Saturday, WTA Chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster unveiled a new marketing campaign for 2015: Power to Inspire. King loves the message.
"It's powerful," she said. "Just be inspired, be the best you can be and let's go!"
WTAFinals.com contributor Courtney Nguyen is a freelance tennis writer based in Northern California. She is the blogger behind Sports Illustrated's Beyond the Baseline and co-host of the No Challenges Remaining podcast.