A former World No. 1 professional American tennis player, who won 39 Grand Slam titles.
Born in Long Beach, CA, to a family with an athletic background. From a very young age, Billie Jean excelled in different sports, starting with basketball and softball, but from the moment she tried tennis, she knew that this was her destiny. She practiced and played in the US and gained her international recognition at age 18, when she and her tennis partner, Karen Hantze Susman, won the Wimbledon Women’s Doubles title, the youngest pair to win the tournament.
Five years later she won the singles championship at Wimbledon, ranked #1 World Women Tennis Players, a title she earned five more times. Between ages 18 to 36, King won a total of 39 Grand Slam titles, competing both in singles and doubles.
In 1973, as part of Billie Jean’s campaign for equal pay, she took the challenge and beat the former tennis champion, Bobby Riggs, in a match known as “Battle of the Sexes”, showing that women can play tennis the same level as men.
A year later she became one of the first female professional coaches when she served as a player-coach of the ’Philadelphia Freedoms’. Upon her retirement at the age of 41, Billie Jean was appointed as the captain of the U.S Fed Cup Team, as well as the coach of the U.S Women’s Olympic Tennis Squad.
Billie Jean King was active both on and off the tennis court, and through her career, she led a campaign for the equal rights and prizes of women sports players. She founded and was the first president of the ‘Women’s Tennis Association’, established the ‘Women’s Sports Foundation’ with her husband, co-founded the ‘World Team Tennis’, and established the ‘Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative’ for diverse and inclusive leadership in the workforce.
After she was outed as a lesbian and as a result lost her endorsements, she became an advocate for LGBT rights.
“A champion is afraid of losing. Everyone else is afraid of winning”
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- She began to play tennis when she was 11 years old because her parents wanted her to play a more “feminine sport”.
- As a child, she bought her first racquet with the money she earned by herself.
- At age 12 she was banned from her tennis group picture because she wore a tennis short instead of the traditional tennis dress.
- In 2017, a movie based on the story of her famous “Battle of the Sexes” was released. It was directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton.
- The USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY is named after her.