Billie Jean King is acutely aware of the social change she has helped herald.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion and founder of the Women’s Tennis Association won the infamous Battle of the Sexes game against Bobby Riggs in 1973. Next month, the match and its nuanced aftereffects — which rippled through athletics and society at large — are the subject of a new film, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell as King and Riggs, respectively.
While attending the U.S. Open Wednesday night on behalf of Citizen Watch, which has helped sponsor the film as well as striking a recent partnership with King’s Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, the tennis great reflected on advancements for athletics and women’s rights in the years since her momentous victory.
King acknowledged that women’s tennis is one of the few sports in which women’s players receive near-equal fanfare to men’s champions. “It’s the only sport I can really think of,” she noted.
During the discussion, King’s thoughts materialized on-court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, where 37-year-old Venus Williams won her second round match against Océane Dodin. King pointed out her own career’s total prize money — at approximately $2 million — pales with today’s sums (Williams, for example, is nearing $38 million). “We knew we were doing it for future generations,” King noted of her campaign to start the Women’s Tennis Association, marking women’s first official foray into professional tennis.
On advancements in athletics:
“Everything has changed. All of the technology, the racquets, the strings the nutrition and workout information. They just have so much more information available. And because there is money in the sport now, people follow the money. You have a lot of people helping you — a hitting partner, a trainer, sometimes a chiropractor. All these different forms of therapy help someone reach an optimal level. Their level of performance is much different from where we were.
On racquet technology:
“Everyone concentrates on the strings now. They have little edges in the strings that exaggerates the spin of the ball. If they tried to hit now with our old wooden rackets it wouldn’t make it to the service line. Martina Navratilova, who plays a lot still, said: ‘It’s such a joke now with these racquets. You can do anything with them it’s so much easier.’ But I think that’s good for recreational playing.”
On meeting Emma Stone for her…