Billie Jean King – living the dream
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Billie Jean King – living the dream

Gerry Cranham


Billie Jean King (pictured at Wimbledon in 1975) was one of the most decorated tennis players of her era, winning 12 grand slam singles titles. Yet her career has been defined as much by her achievements off the court as by those on it. A lifelong campaigner for gender equality, she was one of the nine women who, in 1970, formed the Virginia Slams Circuit in protest at the lack of prize money in the women’s game and later became the first president of the newly-formed Women’s Tennis Association. She also swatted aside the former men’s pro Bobby Riggs in the so-called “Battle of the Sexes” – an exhibition contest borne of Riggs’s sexist belief that no female player could defeat him. The match was worth $100,000 to the winner, but, as King said, much more was at stake: “I thought it would set [women] back 50 years if I didn’t win that match – it would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self-esteem.” She duly trounced her opponent in straight sets (6-4, 6-3, 6-3) in front of a global TV audience of almost 100 million.

Photograph: Gerry Cranham / Offside

Words: Jonny Weeks


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