Billie Jean King
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Long Beach, California, USA
Grand slam-winning tennis player who revolutionised the women’s game
From the courts to the courtrooms, tennis player and champion of women’s rights, Billie Jean King was difficult to defeat.
Champions keep playing until they get it right.
1. She was good at aces… and activism
When King won Wimbledon in 1968 she received £750 – the male winner, Rod Laver received £2000. King wasn’t going to put up with this massive inequality: she fought as hard off court as she did on it to raise the profile and standing of women’s tennis. In 1970 she helped organise a professional women’s tour, while in 1973 her boycott threat forced the US Open to pay equal prize money. Just to underline the point, in that same year she thrashed chauvinistic Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes match. It was watched by 90 million TV viewers.
2. She believed in volleys… and values
King was publically outed as being gay in 1981. It was a tough time, with a host of companies dropping her from sponsorship deals. But – despite advice from her publicist and lawyer, and not even being comfortable with her own sexuality at the time – she refused to deny being a lesbian. She has since settled into a long-term relationship with former player Ilana Kloss and is now an influential social activist and advocate for gay rights.
3. She was really, really good at tennis
While King’s contribution to women’s and gay rights has been substantial and important, it should be remembered that she was always a dominant force on the tennis court. She won 12 grand slam single titles, another 16 doubles and 11 mixed doubles matches, and in 1971 she became the first female athlete to earn over $100,000 in prize money.