Billie Jean King
Billie Jean Moffitt King (born November 22, 1943 in Long Beach, California) is a retired tennis player from the United States. During her career, she won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, 16 Grand Slam women's doubles titles, and 11 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. She is generally considered to be one of the greatest female tennis players and female athletes in history. King has been an outspoken advocate against sexism in sports and society. The tennis match for which the public best remembers her is the "Battle of the Sexes" in 1973, in which she defeated Bobby Riggs, a former Wimbledon men's champion who had been ranked the "World's Number 1" tennis player for the years 1941, 1946, and 1947.
King was born Billie Jean Moffitt. She was born into a conservative Methodist family, the daughter of a firefighter father and housewife mother. Her younger brother Randy Moffitt grew up to become a professional baseball player, pitching for 12 years in the major leagues for the San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros, and Toronto Blue Jays.
Moffitt learned to play tennis on the public courts of Long Beach, California. She attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School where she was a member of Zayn Welfare Sorority. She first gained international recognition in 1961 when, at age 17, she won the women's doubles title at Wimbledon in her first attempt while partnering Karen Hantze Susman. At Wimbledon in 1962, in only her second career singles match at that tournament, Moffitt upset the number one player in the world and top seed, Margaret Smith Court, in a second round match after Court had led 5-2 and was serving at 5-3 (30-15) in the third set.
In 1965, Moffitt married law student Lawrence King.
In 1966, King won the first of her six singles titles at Wimbledon. She followed up in 1967 by winning the singles titles at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships. She developed a reputation as an aggressive, hard-hitting net-rusher, with excellent speed and a highly competitive personality. King once said, "Victory is fleeting. Losing is forever."
Before the start of the open era in 1968, she earned US$100 a week as a playground instructor and student at Los Angeles State College when not playing in major tennis tournaments.
In 1967, King criticized the United States Lawn Tennis Association in a series of press conferences, denouncing what she called the Association's practice of "shamateurism," where top players were paid under the table to guarantee their entry into tournaments. King argued that this was corrupt and kept the game highly elitist. King quickly became a significant force in the opening of tennis to professionalism.
When the open era began, King campaigned for equal prize money in the men's and women's games. As the financial backing of the women's game improved due to the efforts of World Tennis magazine founder, publisher and editor Gladys M. Heldman, King became the first woman athlete to earn over US$100,000 in prize money in 1971; however, inequalities continued.
In 1972, King won the U.S. Open but received US$15,000 less than the men's champion Ilie N?stase. She stated that if the prize money was not equal by the following year, she would not play. In 1973, the U.S. Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women.
Battle of the Sexes
Despite King's achievements at the world's biggest tennis tournaments, the U.S. public best remembers King for her win over Bobby Riggs in 1973.
Riggs had been a top men's player in the 1930s and 1940s in both the amateur and professional ranks, becoming the world's best player in the mid-1940s. He then became a self-described tennis "hustler" who played in promotional challenge matches. In 1973, he took on the role of male chauvinist. Claiming that the women's game was so inferior to the men's game that even a 55-year-old like himself could beat the current top female players, he challenged and defeated Margaret Smith Court 6-2, 6-1. King, who previously had rejected challenges from Riggs, then accepted a lucrative financial offer to play him.
Dubbed the Battle of the Sexes, the Riggs-King match was played at the Houston Astrodome in Texas on September 20, 1973. The match garnered huge publicity. In front of 30,492 spectators and a worldwide television audience estimated at 50 million people in 37 countries, King beat Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. The match is considered a very significant event in developing greater recognition and respect for women's tennis. King said, "I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn't win that match. It would ruin the women's [tennis] tour and affect all women's self-esteem."
In recent years, a persistent urban legend has arisen, particularly on the Internet, that the rules of tennis were modified for the match so that Riggs had only one serve for King's two and that King was allowed to hit into the doubles court area. This is untrue, the match was played under the normal rules of tennis.
Furthering the tennis profession
King led player efforts to support the first professional women's tennis tour in the 1970s called the Virginia Slims, founded by Gladys Heldman and funded by Joseph Cullman of Philip Morris. Once the tour took flight, King worked tirelessly to promote it.
In 1973, King became the first president of the women's players union – the Women's Tennis Association. In 1974, she, with husband Larry King and Jim Jorgensen, founded womenSports magazine and started the Women's Sports Foundation. Also in 1974, King helped to found World TeamTennis. She became league commissioner in 1982.
King is also a founding member on the Board of Honorary Trustees for the National Sports Museum, which is expected to open in early 2008, and will be home to the Women's Sports Foundation Hall of Fame.
King retired from competitive play in singles at the end of 1983. She reached the semifinals in her final appearance at Wimbledon, losing to Andrea Jaeger 6-1, 6-1 after beating Kathy Jordan 7-5, 6-4 in the quarterfinals, Wendy Turnbull 7-5, 6-3 in the fourth round, and Rosie Casals, her longtime doubles partner, 6-3, 6-4 in the third round. The final singles match of her career was a second round 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 loss to Catherine Tanvier at the 1983 Australian Open.
King played doubles sporadically from 1984 through 1990. She retired from competitive play in doubles in March 1990. In her last competitive doubles match, King and her partner, Jennifer Capriati, lost a second round match to Brenda Schultz-McCarthy and Andrea Temesvari 6-3, 6-2 at the Virginia Slims of Florida tournament.
In the mid-1990s, King became the captain of the United States Fed Cup team and coach of its women's Olympic tennis squad. She guided the U.S. to the Fed Cup championship in 1996 and helped Lindsay Davenport, Gigi Fernandez, and Mary Joe Fernandez capture Olympic gold medals.
In 2002, King dismissed Capriati from the Fed Cup team, saying Capriati had violated rules that forbade bringing along and practicing with personal coaches. Opinion was sharply divided, with many supporting King's decision but many feeling the punishment was too harsh, especially in hindsight when Monica Seles and Lisa Raymond were defeated by lower-ranked Austrians Barbara Schett and Barbara Schwartz. The following year, Zina Garrison Jackson succeeded King as Fed Cup captain.
According to the end-of-year rankings compiled by the Daily Telegraph from 1914 through 1972, King was ranked first in the world three times: 1966, 1967, and 1968. King also was ranked first for 1972 and 1974, when the official rankings were produced by the Women's Tennis Association.
King's triumph at the French Open in 1972 made her only the fifth woman in tennis history to win the singles titles at all four Grand Slam events, a "career Grand Slam." She also won a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles. In women's doubles, only the Australian Open eluded her. She won a record 20 career titles at Wimbledon – 6 singles, 10 women's doubles, and 4 mixed doubles. (Martina Navratilova also has 20 career titles at Wimbledon.)
During her career, King won 67 professional and 37 amateur singles titles and helped the United States win the Fed Cup seven times. Her career prize money totalled US$1,966,487.
King played 51 Grand Slam events in singles from 1959 through 1983 (197-39 .835 win-loss record): 21 at Wimbledon (96-15 win-loss record), 18 at the U.S. Championships/Open (63-14 win-loss record), 7 at the French Championships/Open (22-6 win-loss record), and 5 at the Australian Championships/Open (16-4 win-loss record).
She won 12 Grand Slam singles titles: 6 at Wimbledon, 4 at the U.S. Championships/Open, 1 at the French Open, and 1 at the Australian Championships. She won the last 7 Grand Slam singles finals in which she played, 6 of them in straight sets. Four of those finals were against Evonne Goolagong.
From 1966 through 1975, King played in 25 Grand Slam singles tournaments, winning 12. She was the runner-up in 4 of those tournaments, a losing semifinalist in 2 of those tournaments, and a losing quarterfinalist in 5 of those tournaments. From 1971 through 1975, King won 7 of the 10 Grand Slam singles tournaments she played. All but one of King's Grand Slam singles championships were on grass.
During her career, King was the runner-up in 6 Grand Slam singles events, and she reached at least the semifinals in 27 and at least the quarterfinals in 40 out of her 51 attempts. An indicator of King's mental toughness at crunch time in Grand Slam singles tournaments was her 11-2 career record in deuce third sets, i.e., third sets that were tied 5-5 before being resolved.
King appeared on Law & Order, one of her favorite television shows, as a judge on April 27, 2007.
King married Lawrence King in 1965. In 1971, she had an abortion. King said in an interview with 60 Minutes in 1972 that she and her husband were not ready to have children at that time because both were busy with their careers and could not devote time to children.
In 1971, King began an intimate relationship with her secretary Marilyn Barnett. King acknowledged the relationship when it became public in a lawsuit ten years later, becoming the first prominent American athlete to confirm having a gay relationship. King said that she decided to play on the tour in 1982 and 1983 solely because she needed money to pay the attorneys who defended her in that lawsuit and that she really did not want to play at age 38 and 39.
In 1987, she divorced Lawrence King. On a PBS program on March 20, 2005, she discussed the fact that her sexual side has been the greatest struggle of her life. She pointed out that she came from a personally conservative background, which worked against her being open about her sexual orientation, as contrasted with less inhibited players such as Martina Navratilova.
Friends with singer Elton John, the song "Philadelphia Freedom" is a tribute to King. On a PBS program, John talked about how he brought a demo copy of the record to play for her right after he had recorded it.
Charles M. Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, was another of King's admirers and close friends. Schulz referenced King several times in Peanuts over the years. In one strip, Peppermint Patty tells Marcie, "Has anyone ever told you that when you're mad, you look just like Billie Jean King?"
In 1999 King was elected to serve on the Board of Directors of Philip Morris Incorporated, garnering some criticism from anti-tobacco groups. She no longer serves in that capacity.
In 2000, King received an award from the GLAAD, an organisation devoted to reducing discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals, for "furthering the visibility and inclusion of the community in her work." The award noted her involvement in production and the free distribution of educational films, as well as serving on the boards of several AIDS charities.
King currently resides in New York and Chicago with partner Ilana Kloss.
Awards, honors, and tributes
Margaret Smith Court, who won more Grand Slam titles than anyone, has said that King was “the greatest competitor I’ve ever known.”
In 1972, King became the first tennis player to be named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. She was also the first female athlete ever to receive that honor.
In 1975, Seventeen (magazine) magazine found that King was the most admired woman in the world from a poll of its readers. Golda Meir, who had been Israel's prime minister until the previous year, finished second.
King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1990, Life magazine named her one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century."
King was the recipient of the 1999 Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
On August 28, 2006, the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was rededicated as the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. John McEnroe, Venus Williams, Jimmy Connors, and Chris Evert were among the speakers during the rededication ceremony. The center is the largest sports facility in the world to be named after a woman.
On December 6, 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver inducted King into the California Hall of Fame located at The California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts.
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