Salvadorian Spitfire" Casals was born in 1948 in San Francisco to poor
parents who had immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. Less than
a year after Casals was born, her parents decided they could not care for
her and her older sister, Victoria. Casals's great-uncle and great-aunt,
Manuel and Maria Casals, took the young girls in and raised them as their
own. When the children grew older, Manuel Casals took them to the public
tennis courts of San Francisco and taught them how to play the game. He
became the only coach Casals would ever have.Traditionally, tennis was a
sport practiced in expensive country clubs by the white upper class. Her
background immediately set her apart from most of the other players.
"The other kids had nice tennis clothes, nice rackets, nice white
shoes, and came in Cadillacs," Casals told a reporter for People.
"I felt stigmatized because we were poor."Unfamiliarity with
country club manners also made Casals feel different from the other
players. Traditionally, audiences applauded only politely during matches
and players wore only white clothes on the court. Both of these practices
seemed foolish to Casals. She believed in working hard to perfect her game
and expected the crowd to show its appreciation for her extra efforts. In
1972 at the tradition-filled courts of Wimbledon, she was nearly excluded
from competition for not wearing white. Despite her victories on the
courts, Casals continued to fight tennis traditions on several fronts.
Amateur tennis players (those who are unpaid) had always been favored over
professionals (those paid). Because many amateur tennis players came from
non-wealthy backgrounds, they were forced to accept under-the-table money
in order to continue playing. This, in turn, made them professionals and
prevented them from entering major tournaments that allowed only amateurs
to play, such as Wimbledon. Fighting against this discrimination, Casals
worked for an arrangement that allowed both amateur and professional tennis
players to compete in the same tournaments. Casals's together with Billie
Jean King challenged the large difference in prize monies awarded to male
and female players.