An interview with Billie Jean King.

kingWhat was the best thing about being a player in your era?

Being part of women’s tennis, a movement in transition, and starting new traditions in the game really helped us see both sides in tennis and in life. The memory that stands out was the day nine of us signed symbolic $1 contracts in 1970, and women’s professional tennis was born. I’ve always said sport is just about the toughest career a female can choose and it takes strong women to make a stand. Equal prize money was a long way off in those days but we made that stand.

What was the worst thing about tennis in your era?

The downside of playing when the sport was going from the amateur to the open era was the restlessness and not knowing what was coming next. It was a tumultuous time, full of upheaval and lacking clarity.

Who was the best coach you had, and why were they the best?

I was blessed to have different coaches for different period of my career. Clyde Walker helped me love tennis, Mervyn Rose and Frank Brennan Sr helped me get to the world No.1 spot and my college coaches, Dr Joan Johnson and Scotty Deeds, taught me so much.

Who was the best player you played against?

It would be wrong for me to single anyone out. Margaret Smith, who later became Margaret Court, was tough and I had to learn how to accept defeat in major finals against her. Later in my career, Chris Evert and Martina [Navratilova] were so hard to play against in different ways.

What was the best venue you played at?

There is only ever going to be one answer to this: Wimbledon. I was 17 years old when I first set eyes on the manicured grass in 1961 and it was an overwhelming moment. Every year when I return to the All England Club, I always take a moment to sit by Centre Court before the crowds pour in and reflect on the sport that I love so much.

Who do you rate as the best player in the female game today?

I wouldn’t like to pick anyone out but the Williams sisters have done a lot for the women’s game and hopefully will do a lot more. Serena had all the attributes to become the greatest woman ever to play the game. Venus has distinguished herself as the sort of person to lead the women’s game as a figurehead and said some noble things during the battle for equal prize money.

What is the worst thing about the game today?

The basic lack of the unity that existed in my playing days. Too many players just seem to think about themselves. Honestly, I wish there were two separate seasons; one for individual competitions and another for players to compete on a team. Today’s players need to get to know each other better and one of the great things about the world of sport is the unity of team spirit.

What was the best advice you were given as a player?

My parents always told me to just do what you love and do the best you can. My first coach, Clyde Walker, always reinforced that view.

Where are you now?

I’ve just enjoyed watching another US Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, and that always feels pretty neat. I am 65 years old and a small businesswoman heavily involved in World TeamTennis. We’ve just completed our 34th pro season and I am still working hard to put more team play into tennis. I am also very involved in the Women’s Sports Foundation [which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year]. I still care deeply and campaign strongly on many issues but I remain convinced one thing is imperative for professional tennis to move forward and that is for the men’s game and the women’s game finally to come together under one banner

Courtesy  The Times.


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