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Billy Jean King is a professional tennis player from the United States who ranked as the top player in the world six times. She won 39 Grand Slams, including 11 co-ed doubles, 16 women’s doubles, and 12 singles Grand Slam events. She also advocates for women’s rights and social justice and won the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match against Bobby Riggs. The Billy Jean King National Tennis Center in New York is named in her honor.

Childhood and Education

Billie Jean King was born Billie Jean Moffitt in Long Beach, California, on November 22, 1943. She was named for Bill Moffitt, her father, a local fireman and passionate athlete. [1] She grew up with one brother named Randy Moffitt who went on to pitch for the San Francisco Giants. Moffitt learned to play tennis on the Long Beach public courts even before attending Long Beach Polytechnic High School. She later enrolled in California State University, Lost Angeles.[2]

Tennis Superstar

The National Tennis Center is named after Billie Jean King and her extensive professional tennis career.

Billie Jean King won her first tournament on August 7, 1960, at the District Grass Court Championships in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[3] Her rise to international stardom occurred in 1961 when she won the Ladies Double Championship with Karen Hantze at age 17.[4] On September 27, 1971, Billie Jean King became the first women’s tennis player to win $100,000+ from prizes in one calendar year.

King was known for aggressive play while on the court, running extremely quickly, hitting ground strokes with purpose, and actively covering the net. She’s the only women tennis player to win a singles title in the U.S. on all four court surface types, hard, clay, carpet, and grass. Billie Jean King won her last tournament at the Edgbaston Cup in Birmingham, England on June 6, 1983. She was the oldest player to win a title on the WTA Tour at 39 years, 7 months, and 23 days old.[5]

Wimbledon

Billie Jean King won six singles championship at Wimbledon, including in 1966, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1973, and 1975. She won against Maria Bueno, Ann Haydon, Judy Tegart, Evonne Goolagong, Chris Evert, and then Evonne Goolagong again. Her ten wins for women’s doubles occurred in 1961 and 1962 with Karen Hantze Susman, in 1965 with Maria Bueno, in 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, and 1973 with Rosemary Casals, in 1972 with Betty Stöve, and in 1979 with Martina Navrátilová.

Billie Jean King also won four mixed doubles tournaments at Wimbledon. She competed and won with Owen Davidson in 1967, 1971, 1973, and 1974.[6] King played for almost 20 years at Wimbledon with an impressive record, 96-15. King shares the record for most Wimbledon titles with Martina Navrátilová.[7]

U.S. Nationals/U.S. Open

Billie Jean King won her first U.S. Nationals in 1967 against Ann Haydon Jones. The U.S. National became the U.S. Open the following year. King went to the U.S. Open finals six times total and won the women’s singles title three more times. She beat Rosemary Casals in 1971, Kerry Melville Reid in 1972, and Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1974.

King competed in the U.S. Open women’s doubles tournament 12 different times during her career. She won for the first time with her Wimbledon partner, Karen Hantze Susman, in 1964. She won again in 1967 and 1974 with Rosemary Casals and in 1978 and 1980 with Martina Navrátilová.

Billie Jean King also competed in the U.S. Open mixed doubles tournament seven times between 1967 and 1978. She won in 1967, 1971, and 1973, playing with Owen Davidson. She one a final time in 1976 with partner Phil Dent. She made it to the finals in 1975 with Fred Stolle, in 1977 with Vitas Gerulaitis, and in 1978 with Ray Ruffels.[8]

International Career and The Battle of the Sexes

Billie Jean King enjoyed a successful international career that led to her ranking as #1 player in the world six times, including from 1966 to 1968, 1971, 1972, and 1974. She participated in the French Open as a single and a double. She won the women’s singles and the women’s doubles in 1972, along with the mixed doubles in 1967 and 1970. King also participated in the Australian open. She won the women’s singles and the mixed doubles tournament in 1968.

In 1953, King joined the Federation Cup team and played with them until 1967 and from 1976 to 1979. She helped them win seven titles and reach the finals every single time she played with the team. King captained the Federation Cup team in 1965, 1976, 1995, and 1996.

King also participated in the Wightman Cup against the United Kingdom and won 21 out of 26 women’s singles and doubles games. She lost one time in over 10 years and won the cup every year between 1961 and 1967, and in 1970, 1977, and 1978.

In 1973, Billie Jean King played against the middle aged, former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs. The heavily publicized tennis event was dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” and broadcast nationally. They played in front of an audience of almost 30,500 and King defeated Riggs.[9]

Personal Life and Honors

Billie Jean Moffitt was the first female, professional athlete to come out as homosexual.

Billie Jean Moffitt married Larry King, a lawyer and real estate broker, in 1966. She had an abortion in 1971 since she did not think their marriage was strong enough to support a child. This became widely publicized after Larry King included her name on a list of prominent women who had chosen to have abortions that was printed in the first copy of Ms. Magazine in 1972. The couple divorced in 1987.

In 1968, King recognized her attraction to women and started a relationship with Marilyn Barnett, her secretary, in 1971. Barnett sued King in May 1981 and exposed their previously secret relationship to the public.[10] The Associated Press chose her as their 1967 Female Athlete of the Year and Harper’s Bazaar Magazine named her one of the “10 most powerful women in America” in 1977.

King frequently spoke out on women’s rights in tennis and many believe she helped influence the passage of Title IX in 1972. U.S. President Barack Obama honored Billy Jean King with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was the first female athlete to receive the award. [11] The U.S. Tennis Association renamed the National Tennis Center for Billie Jean King on August 3, 2006.[12]

References

Bibliography


International Tennis Hall of Fame. (2006). Billie Jean Moffitt King. Hall of Famers.[2]

ITHF. (2016). Billie Jean King. International Tennis Hall of Fame.[3]

King, B. J., & Deford, F. (1982). Billie Jean. New York: Viking Press.

Footnotes

  1. International Tennis Hall of Fame, 2006
  2. ITHF, 2016
  3. ITHF, 2016
  4. International Tennis Hall of Fame, 2006
  5. ITHF, 2016
  6. King & Deford, 1982
  7. ITHF, 2016
  8. King & Deford, 1982
  9. International Tennis Hall of Fame, 2006
  10. King & Deford, 1982
  11. ITHF, 2016
  12. Sandomir, R. (2015, February 15). Tennis Center to Be Named for Billie Jean King. The New York Times.[1]

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