In celebration of the Women’s Tennis Association’s 40th anniversary this year, we at the Rogers Cup were privileged to be joined by WTA creator and tennis legend Billie Jean King who was accompanied by current chairman and CEO of the WTA, Stacey Allaster who was inducted into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame in 2011.
In addition to the WTA celebrating its 40th year, Billie Jean King is nearing another milestone as September 20 of this year will mark the 40th anniversary of her legendary Battle of the Sexes II contest against Bobby Riggs, a match in which Ms. King won in straight sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
During her visit, King discussed her continuing effort to bring more gender equality not only to tennis but to the sports arena overall.
Right off the bat, the tennis legend asked how many women there were in the Canadian government. While no one was clear on a definitive number, one journalist mentioned that there have been a few premiers, past and current, before I mentioned that Canada used to have a female prime minister years ago, albeit I was reminded that by Ms. Allaster that Kim Campbell’s tenure as Canada’s leader was brief, she was nevertheless a prime minister. But I digress.
Ms. King went on to state that her life was about “equal opportunity for both boys and girls” but admitted that women are “so far behind” in the fight for equality. Personally, I’ve always admired Ms. King for her tireless campaigning for equal opportunity and while women’s rights have come a long way over the last few decades, I do agree that there is still a lot of work to be done especially in the sports echelon where organizations like the LPGA and WNBA don’t receive the same limelight that men’s organizations do.
Of course, if one’s looking for proof as to how entertaining women’s athletics are, they don’t need to look any further than the Rogers Cup.
While the Williams sisters have more or less dominated women’s tennis so far this millennium with Serena earning the brunt of said eclat lately, there are so many potential stars waiting in the wings to be women’s tennis next big thing. In the seventies, the WTA celebrated the always-entertaining rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratalova followed by Monica Seles and Steffi Graf a few years later. Along the way, women’s tennis has seen their share of dominant players from Jennifer Capriati to Martina Hingis and today, the WTA is celebrating such stars as Maria Sharapova and Maria Kirilenko while having the privilege of watching the development of up-and-comers such as Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard. Yet, despite all of the WTA’s success, they have experienced their share of dry spells just like men’s tennis has.
In her discussion, Ms. King talked about men’s tennis has never had four dominant players at the same time like they have right now (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray). So, if men’s tennis can go through their own slow periods and still be successful, why can’t women’s tennis celebrate the same fate?
In relation to her push for more equality, Ms. King expressed her disdain when she described the lack of women in the United States Congress as “pathetic.” But business wasn’t the sole reason for Ms. King’s visit.
The tennis legend expressed her love for both Toronto and Canada overall, the latter being the subject of a class project she did while in elementary school. Her first reason for choosing Canada?
“I love the maple leaf.”
Her second reason and more importantly, Ms. King knew that while Canadians were (or are) in many ways different from Americans, they are next-door neighbours with the United States, a paradox which peaked the Hall-of-Famer’s interest.
Ms. King also told us how she used to bring her dog Lucy to Canada because she loved the snow. Furthermore, since she never cared for the heat, Ms. King stated matter-of-factly that “Canada was perfect for us,” referring to herself and younger brother Randy Moffitt who was a Major League pitcher who finished his career with the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, Moffitt’s final game in the Majors came on September 19, 1983, one day shy of the 10th anniversary of his sister’s landmark match with Bobby Riggs.
According to Ms. King, women’s tennis isn’t just great for female athletes but women globally in any field.
A winner of 12 Grand Slams over the course of her illustrious career, Ms. King is justifiably proud of everything she has accomplished both on the court and off and is determined to continue her success. Ms. King is so proud that she held no reservations in telling the entire room that she is turning 70 this coming November.
Tennis players, athletes and equal opportunists everywhere owe a great deal to Ms. King for everything she has done and continues to do for equality. As we look back on the vast success of women’s tennis, we wonder what tennis would be like without her. Then we stop and realize that we don’t want to imagine tennis without Billie Jean King. It would just be too unpleasant to ponder.