NEW YORK (AP) — For Billie Jean King, 70 is the new 40.
The tennis great, who turns 70 in November, has been celebrating the 40th anniversary of equal prize money at the U.S. Open, the formation of the WTA tour and her victory against Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes" match.
King was 29 when she accomplished those feats in 1973. On Tuesday night, PBS will highlight her career with the national premiere of "American Masters: Billie Jean King."
The series' first profile of a sports figure focuses on the professional tennis tour's start amid the women's movement and features interviews with Gloria Steinem, Chris Evert, King's doubles partner Rosie Casals and her brother Randy Moffitt, a former pitcher for the San Francisco Giants.
Thanks to King's efforts decades ago, Serena Williams earned a check for $2.6 million — the same as Rafael Nadal — for winning the U.S. Open last weekend.
Here's a five-part Q-and-A with King, who these days is giving tips to young tennis players Sloane Stephens and Victoria Duval:
Q: You received about two-thirds less in prize money for winning Wimbledon in 1968 compared with Rod Laver. What kind of leverage did it take to get equal prize money at the U.S. Open in 1973?
A: The U.S. Open was way ahead of its time, actually, compared to how long it took the other three majors to come around (Wimbledon last in 2007). We did it quietly, behind the scenes. There were two sponsors who said they would make it equal — they would put in the money to make up the difference. I said, "Now we're talking, because now we're talking business."
Q: Why were sports an effective way to express what the women's movement was about in the 1970s, especially the tennis match you won against Riggs?
A: I talk about feminists, how they were all from the neck up in the '70s. This was not from the neck up, it was the whole body. It's very important for people to trust their bodies. It was the first time women started to think about all of themselves, instead of just their brains. It's really about their physicality. Sports are very different from other performing arts because you can't rehearse, you have an opponent and you sweat.
Q: You wanted the men's and women's tours to team up in the 1970s. Why do you believe the WTA managed to flourish and become a successful global enterprise that now offers $118 million in total prize money for 54 events in 33 countries?