By Yemi Babalola Lagos, Nigeria.
OUR Amazon for the week is a Tennis star by the name Billie Jean King. Now you might want to know if she was the one late pop king, Michael Jackson talked about? Well never can tell (laughs).
It is worthy of note that some have said her impatience is her weakness. But that would not take away her praise for becoming a phenomenal female tennis player in history.
Billie Jean King was born Billie Jean Moffitt in long beach, California on November 22, 1943 to a house-wife mother and a fire-fighter father. Her younger brother Randy Moffitt also grew up to become a professional baseball player.
Billie Jean had a unique body feature, she is right-handed and one-handed. She learned her tennis on the free public courts in long beach picking up a tennis racket for the first time at the age of 11 and immediately knowing that, that was what she wanted for a career.
The 5 feet 5 inches tall Billie Jean known to be an aggressive, hard hitting, net rusher with excellent speed turned professional in the year 1959.
After turning professional, King won her first adult tournament title at the Philadelphia and District Women’s Grass Court Championships, defeating Karen Hantze Susman in the quarterfinals.
In 1964, King won four relatively minor titles but lost to Margaret Court in the Wimbledon semifinals in two sets. She defeated Ann Haydon-Jones at both the Wightman Cup and Fed Cup but lost to Court in the final of the Federation Cup 6–2, 6–3. At the U.S. Championships, fifth-seeded Nancy Richey Gunter upsets third-seeded King in the quarterfinals. Late in the year, King decided to make a full-time commitment to tennis.
She dropped her education While being a history major at Los Angeles State College taking up play full-time Tennis play when businessman Robert Mitchell, offered to pay her way to Australia so that she could train under the great Australian coach Mervyn Rose.
in Australia, King played three tournaments that year and lost in the quarterfinals of the Queensland Grass Court Championships, the final of the New South Wales Championships (to Court), and the third round of the Victorian Championships.
She also lost in the final of the South Australian Championships and the first round of the Western Australia Championships however, at the Fed Cup in Melbourne, King defeated Ann Haydon-Jones to help the United States defeat the United Kingdom in the second round but she could not go pass that stage as was defeated by Margaret Court again in the final.
At the Australian Championships two weeks later, King lost to Court in the semifinals in two sets. At Wimbledon, King again lost in the semifinals, this time in three sets to Maria Bueno. Her last tournament of the year was the U.S. Championships, where she defeated Jones in the quarterfinals and Bueno in the semifinals. In the final, King led 5–3 in both sets, was two points from winning the first set, and had two set points in the second set before losing to Court in straight sets.
King finally won the first of her six singles titles at Wimbledon and the first of twelve Grand Slam singles titles overall, defeating Court in the semifinals 6–3, 6–3 and Maria Bueno in the finals of 1966 at the age of 22
She never gave up in her believe that one day she would the world’s number no wonder she held the titles in 129 career titles, which include the Australian Open in 1968, the French Open title in 1972, four US Open titles won in 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974 and six Wimbledon titles won in 1966, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1973 and 1975, bring her grand slam titles to 12 in the open era and 39 in total.
For the first time in 81 years, the annual convention of the United States Lawn Tennis Association overruled its ranking committee’s recommendation to award King the sole U.S. No. 1 position and voted 59,810 to 40,966 to rank Nancy Richey Gunter and King as co-U.S. No. 1
Billie Jean professionally won over 20 career titles at Wimbledon which consisted of 6 titles as a singles champion, 10 as a women’s doubles champion and 4 as a mixed doubles champion.
And talking about raking in the dollars, Billie Jean King was the first female tennis player to make $100,000 in a year; she threatened to boycott the US Open unless women were given the same amount in prize money as men.
Jean was the fifth woman in tennis history to win the singles titles of all four grand slam events also known as a career Grand slam. This feat she also achieved in the women’s doubles with exception of the Australian Open doubles title.
She played alongside female tennis players like Karen Hantze Susman, Rosemary Casals, and Martina Navrilova of the United States, Maria Bueno of Brazil, Betty Stove of the Netherlands and Robyn Ebbern of Australia and male tennis stars like American Dennis Ralston, Vitas Gerulaitus among other greats.
During Jean’s active playing days in the world and US rankings she enjoyed been number 1 frequently and most times was not ranked outside the top 15 from 1965 till 1974 which encompasses the best days of her career.
She stunned the world after a male star; Riggs taunted all female tennis players, prompting King to accept a lucrative financial offer to play Riggs in a nationally televised match that the promoters dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes”.
The match, which had a winner-takes-all prize of $100,000, was held in Houston, Texas on September 20, 1973 and was won by Billie Jean 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
Following her retirement from competitive play, Billie Jean became the Captain of the United States Fed Cup Team and women’s Olympic tennis squad. She guided the Fed Cup team to the championship in 1996 and helped the Olympic team to win Olympic gold medals in tennis and has since being a part of the development of tennis till date.
Jean alongside her then husband Larry King and Jim Jorgensen founded the Womensports magazine and started the Women’s Sport Foundation in 1974. She also part of the founders of world team tennis.
Billie Jean King remains closely tied to the sport till this moment in various capacities and her accomplishments have gone beyond the world of tennis. She has served as acting director for the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the National AIDS Fund.
For further discussion on other sporting interest, you can follow me on twitter on my handle @yemzd or on Instagram: oluyemz.