King is Queen of tennis

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  • Billie Jean King Feature

    Legendary tennis player Billie Jean King was has been accorded with the Lifetime Achievement honor during BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year awards night ceremony on Sunday in Birmingham.

    The 75-year-old American, former No.1 and one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, had won 39 Grand Slam titles, 12 in singles during her playing career in the 60s and 70s.

    King, an advocate for gender equality, not only in her sport, but in all sports as well, who in 1973 won the Battle of the Sexes match against Bobby Riggs.

    She also founded the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

    “We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and we all have an opportunity to share our lives, our experiences and our vision for the future,” King said in her acceptance speech.

    “Each of us is an influencer, and to all the athletes who truly have a platform, let’s continue to use the power of our voices and our actions to inspire others.”

    Other awardees are cyclist Geraint Thomas, Sports Personality of the Year for winning the Tour de France; England Netball team, Team of the Year, for winning the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games; Gareth Southgate, for guiding England to its firsts World Cup of Soccer semifinals round in 28 years;

    Francisco Molinari, World Sports Star of the Year, for being instrumental in Europe’s Ryder Cup glory in golf; Kirsty Ewe, Unsung Hero, for overcoming mental health issues to inspire others to do the same and find a better place through swimming.

    King turned professional in 1959 and gained global recognition two years later when she and Karen Hantze Susman became the youngest pair to win the women’s doubles title at Wimbledon.

    In 1966, she won her first major singles title, again at Wimbledon, and was crowned world number one for the first time – a ranking she held for five further years (1967-1968, 1971-1972 and 1974).

    She retained her Wimbledon titles in both 1967 and 1968 – the years in which she also won her first US Open and Australian Open singles titles respectively.

    All in all, King won a record 20 Wimbledon titles as well as 13 US Open, four French Open and two Australian Open crowns between 1961 and 1979. She collected three Grand Slam titles in one year in 1972.

    She won 129 singles titles in all, 78 of which were WTA titles. In addition, she won seven Fed Cups as a player and four as the US team’s captain.

    King retired from professional tennis in 1983.

    Off the court, King was a pioneer in campaigning for equal prize money in tennis, and in 1971 became the first female player to earn more than $100,000 in prize money.

    However, when she won the US Open in 1972, she received $15,000 less than the men’s champion and vowed not to return the following year unless the prize money was equal.

    In 1973, the US Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women.

    Her campaigning didn’t end there, though, and throughout the 1970s – the height of her competitive years – she led player efforts to support the formation of the first professional women’s tour and became the first president of the WTA.

    In 1974, along with then-husband Larry King, she started the Women’s Sports Foundation, which works to ensure all girls have access to sport.

    By EDDIE G. ALINEA

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