Accessibility links

Tennis Great Billie Jean King Holds NY Clinic on Public Courts - 2001-08-26

Tennis great Billie Jean King is teaching young New York women how to play the sport where she began, on public tennis courts.

The trailblazing tennis champion was in New York's Central Park giving tips to 150 teenage girls who were trying out for a corporate-sponsored tennis camp. "You always want the ball to be out in front, out in front of the body," she reminded the young players.

Ms. King also offered advice to be used in the game and in life. "Character is the most important thing to have, not just what other people think about you," she said.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Ms. King was one of the most acclaimed athletes in the world, winning six Wimbledon and four U.S. Open singles titles. In 1972, she became the first woman athlete ever to win $100,000 in a single season. That sort of record can be a little intimidating to young women like Jamie Dominguez, who said "I need to practice my serving."

The young women are participating in a program run by the New York City parks department that offers free tennis clinics for New York youngsters.

When Ms. King was growing up in California, tennis was considered a sport for the wealthy. She learned the game on public tennis courts in California's parks and now she wants to underscore the message that tennis is for everyone.

"People still think it is hoity toity," she said. "When I tell them that 70 percent of tennis is played in public parks, they go say 'Really?'"

Ms. King became a household name in 1973 when she won the so-called "Battle of the Sexes," beating Bobby Riggs and proving women athletes could hold their own against their male counterparts.

"The boys who watched the Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King match back in 1973 - I call them the first generation of men of the women's movement," she said. "They really are because they are in their late 30s and 40s and early 50s. These men absolutely insisted their daughters have equal opportunities."

But some of the daughters in Central Park, were a little vague about exactly how important Billie Jean King was to the world of sports.

"She is a really good tennis player," said Michelle Fleming.

Billie Jean King's first love was softball. But her parents recognized there was little future for a woman athlete on the softball field and switched her to tennis. She has spent much of her adult life fighting for equality for women in tennis and all sports. She was a leader in the fight for Title IX, the 1972 federal law requiring equality for boys and girls in school sports.