Billie Jean King’s contributions and influence on and off the court led to the birth of women’s professional tennis.
In 1974, she launched a professional league to unite women’s and men’s players with the creation of World Team Tennis. Her accomplishments outside of tennis are just as impressive, such as being the first female athlete to earn the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009), the nation’s highest civilian honor.
King visited ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. campus last week for a “Car Wash.” Front Row asked the 20-time Wimbledon champion about the 2015 Championships (June 29-July 12, exclusive to ESPN) and World Team Tennis’ 40th anniversary season (July 12-August 2, with extensive coverage on ESPN3).
What are you looking forward to about ESPN’s coverage of World Team Tennis?
Well, ESPN is the leader. Anytime you can be on ESPN it’s great. Being on ESPN3 and being on ESPN2, it’s a good start. I wish we had more because of the exposure you guys give and the prestige you give to everybody.
Since World Team Tennis is a team structure in an individual sport, how does that make it fun for the athletes competing?
It’s so much more joyous because you have the team. One year when the [Washington] Kastles won, they lifted up Venus [Williams] and carried her around. She’s never had that experience because she grew up in tennis. She said it was the greatest feeling she’s ever had.
When you started World Team Tennis, how important was it for you to establish a league that had both male and female professionals competing together with equal roles?
That was always my dream. I said I want men and women to be on the court together. I still think some of the greatest tennis is in mixed doubles at times. I like the fact that we represent equality. That both genders are contributing equally. That’s what makes us unique. We’re very open. We’re very big on inclusion and access.
What’s your favorite memory of competing at Wimbledon?
It’ll be my 55th year in a row this year. I haven’t missed a year. Winning women’s doubles in 1961 was my favorite and then winning mixed doubles with Owen Davidson [in 1967]. The quality of play was so high. The sun was starting to set and I said to Owen Davidson, who I’m still really tight with, ‘OK, Owen, we’re not coming out tomorrow. We have to win now!’