Billie Jean King Celebrity LifeAmerican tennis legend Billie Jean King is a former World no: 1 professional tennis player, with 39 grand slam titles to her name. She was also the winning captain of seven federation cups and nine Wightman Cups.
A strong advocate for gender equality, she is also famous for winning the Battle of the Sexes tennis match with 55-year-old Bobby Riggs, a former male tennis champion. In addition to this, Billie is also known for her social work and for being one of the first well- known openly gay athletes.
As a child, Billie was fond of softball, being a part of an all-girls team that won the city championship. To try a more ladylike sport as suggested by her parents, she tried her hand at tennis.
Winning the singles championship at Wimbledon in 1996 was a major success for her. Billie was successful in defending this title for 2 years and won her first US Open singles championship in 1967. In 1968, after winning the Australian open she went on to claim the title of the world no 1 in women’s tennis.
Over the next few years, Billie became famous for her net game and speed and was on a winning streak. She had major wins in the year 1972, with 3 grand slam titles that included the Wimbledon, US Open and the French Open.
Battle of the sexes
In 1973, Billie had a match against the former men’s champion Bobby Riggs, famously dubbed the Battle of the Sexes. Being a top player in the 1930s and 1940s, Bobby started playing in promotional challenge matches and openly claimed that women’s tennis game was way inferior to the men’s game.
He went on to defeat multi-champion Margaret court and challenged Billie to a match. Although she rejected the offer at first, she eventually accepted to play against him for a sum of 100,000 dollars.
She went on to successfully defeat him on September 20, 1973, winning the price amount of 100,000 dollars. This match is considered a major event in tennis history which brought a lot of recognition to women’s tennis.
Billie married Larry King on September 17, 1965, in the state of California. Although she loved her husband very much, by 1968, she realized that she was attracted to other women and even began a relationship with her secretary in 1971. The details of the affair soon became public. Consequently, it led to her telling the truth about her sexual orientation, making her one of the first athletes to do so.
As a result, she lost several of her endorsements but became an icon for the LGBT community. She later divorced her husband in 1981, to pursue a relationship with her doubles partner Ilana Kloss.
Activism and retirement
Known for her strong views on gender equality, Billie publicly said that the sport needs to start paying both genders equally. Not only was she the first female athlete to get 100,000 dollars as prize money but also one of the first to join the cigarette brand Virginia Slims in their tour for women.
Billie was instrumental in the formation of the Women’s Tennis Association and was a vocal advocate for pay inequality, threatening to boycott the US open.
Billie retired from singles matches by 1975 but continued to play doubles play matches. She went on to win the Wimbledon and US Open in 1979 and 1980 respectively and announced her complete retirement from tennis in 1990.
In 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barrack Obama for her social work (women and LGBTQ) and still continue to fight against all forms of injustice.
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