Tennis Tuesday: Billie Jean King
Tennis Tuesday is a weekly content series curated by the New York Empire that will feature some of the game’s greats and New York’s finest tennis coaches, administrators, and fans. This week, we chat with legendary tennis star and iconic social justice pioneer, Billie Jean King.
- At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to be a professional tennis player?
I grew up playing team sports and did not even touch a tennis racquet until I was 11 years old in fifth grade when my friend Susan Williams asked me to play tennis. The first time was fun but I thought there was no way my family could afford for me to play tennis. Then we learned there was free instruction at Houghton Park in Long Beach, Calif., and that changed my life. After my first session with coach Clyde Walker, I knew I wanted to be the No. 1 player in the world.
- What advice would you give to an aspiring young athlete that has dreams of going pro?
Commit to your goals. The road is a long winding road and you need to be adaptable and always be willing to change your goals. Make your strengths extraordinary and your weaknesses adequate. Dream big and go for it.
- Who was your toughest opponent during your career and why?
My toughest opponent was always me, myself and I. But I also faced strong competition from Margaret Court, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova – and who didn’t!
- What was your favorite surface to play on and why?
I always liked playing at night indoors or on Centre Court at Wimbledon. I really enjoyed the clay as well, but because I had to come back to the US and play the grass court season here after Wimbledon, I never got a chance to completely develop my game for clay.
- What inspired you to create World TeamTennis?
I have always wanted tennis to be a co-ed team sport that is accessible for both professional and recreational players. From the beginning and still today, we see the WTT format as a way to grow and develop the sport and get more people to play tennis. If you have ever seen a WTT match, you see my philosophy of life in action – men and women, competing on a level playing field, with equal contributions by all genders.