Billie Jean King was a champion American tennis player winning a total of 39 grand slam titles in an illustrious career. She also played a key role in fighting for greater equality between men and women’s tennis.
“I feel that tennis is an art form that is capable of moving the players and the audience – at least a knowledgeable audience-in almost sensual ways. When I’m performing at my absolute best, I think that some of the euphoria I feel must be transmitted to the audience.”
– Billie Jean King
Of her 39 grand slam titles, 20 were achieved at Wimbledon. She had an aggressive, impatient style. She hit the ball very hard and was quick to come to the net. It was this style of tennis that perfectly suited the Wimbledon grass courts. One of her great rivals, Chris Evert said that her main weakness was her impatience.
A photo of Billie Jean King from Irish Championships
She first appeared at Wimbledon in 1961 as a young tennis player by the name of Billie Jean Moffat. She went on to play at Wimbledon on 22 occasions over a period of 23 years. She was a firm favourite of the crowd and in the early days was better known at Wimbledon than in her home country of US. She played a total of 265 matches at Wimbledon in both singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
In 1974, she took part in one of tennis’ most famous encounters – dubbed ‘The Battle of the Sexes.’ Bobby Riggs was a former number one tennis player. Now 55, he boasted that the men’s game was so superior to the women’s game that he could easily beat any of the best women players of the time. Initially, Billie Jean King was fearful of playing because she felt if she lost it would put women’s tennis back 50 years.
“I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self-esteem.”
However, after Bobby Riggs beat Margaret Court (who was a great opponent of Billie Jean King and beat her twice in grand slam final), Billie Jean King took up the challenge at Houston Astrodome in Texas.
The game was watched by a crowd of over 30,000 and up to 50 million on TV. It was a media sensation, and Billie Jean King proved the winner beating Bobby Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3
“Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility.”
– Billie Jean King
Throughout her career, Billie Jean King campaigned for better pay and recognition for female tennis players.
“I think it was definitely hard for them to change because of the culture and the psyche behind it, but I’m relieved that they finally got there. But remember, it’s not about the money, it’s about the message it sends to women and girls around the world. Every time we can change a benchmark like this, it helps people ask in their daily life, ‘Are we insisting on equality for our sons and daughters?’ So that makes it a very important moment in history.”
– Billie Jean King, on Wimbledon’s decision to award equal prize money for men and women in 2007.
In her early days, she was critical of the US tennis authorities for their promotion of shamateurism. Billie Jean was a keen advocate of professional tennis. For her efforts related to elevating tennis, she was ranked No. 5 on Sports Illustrated’s “Top 40 Athletes” list for significantly altering or elevating sports during the last four decades (1994). She was also named as one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th Century by Time Magazine.
Since her retirement, she has worked for GBLT and is an active promoter of Gay and Lesbian rights in America. She also serves on the Women’s Sports Foundation and the Elton John AIDS campaign.
In 2007, she launched Green Slam an organisation trying to make tennis more environmentally aware.
Pressure is a Privilege – Billie Jean King
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