Tennis great Billie Jean King has a lot to celebrate. Her legendary career led to 39 Grand slam titles, including 20 at Wimbledon, and she was a leading activist for social change and gender equality, but it wasn't until recently that King won her battle against debilitating knee pain after successful double-knee replacement surgery in 2010.
King, 68, talked to PARADE about the role tennis plays in her life, her thoughts on today's players, the 40th anniversary of Title IX, and more.
On her proudest career moment.
“I’m not finished. I’ve still got a lot of energy, but I think the one thing that most people think of is when I beat Bobby Riggs in the 'Battle of the Sexes' match. The 40th anniversary is next year. I beat him in 1973 and back then, a women couldn’t even get a credit card on her own without a man signing for her. Title IX had just passed and it was all about social change, it wasn’t about tennis, but tennis exploded after that. It just set off a huge tennis boom.”
On the 40th anniversary of Title IX.
“It’s a wonderful year to celebrate how far we’ve come. It’s not just about sports, it’s really about education. It's why so many women have opportunities today. I really don’t take credit. I’m really indebted to the people who came up with it. It was fun to help. I was still playing full time, so I felt like I didn’t do enough, but I had access to the media at the time, so I could try to help it get passed and try to get everybody on the same page, which was difficult at the time."
On her knee replacement surgery in 2010.
"I got to a point where I couldn’t even walk a block in New York City. I had to take a taxi to get to the gym and then when I got to the gym, I couldn’t even lift weights properly because my knees were hurting so badly. My whole life was closing in on me, so I’m just so thrilled that I decided to get my knees done. I waited too long. You just don’t realize how debilitating it can be. You have to really be patient with your rehab, but the other side of it is worth it. I think my knees are going to outlive me! I feel great."
On the role tennis plays in her life today.
“Tennis is not obviously what it was when I was professional, but the thing is I can say yes if I want to play, and I had to say no for so long because of my knee issues.”
On what she loves so much about the sport.
“When I get to hit a tennis ball, I feel more integrated in mind, body, and soul. It is a great feeling and I feel very connected to myself. I don’t get that feeling from too many things. I think love and friendship will be up at the top, but that’s why I love tennis so much.”
On the players she's keeping her eye on.
Well the top three guys are Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer. Federer is just unbelievable. The women are much more unpredictable. There’s been so many different women who have been No. 1 over the last few years, it's amazing. If it’s not Maria Sherapova, it’s Victoria Azarenka or Serena Williams. It just keeps changing, so you don’t know who’s going to win."
On what it takes to be No. 1.
“You have to have the passion to play every day. You've gotta be able to recharge your battery every night and put the discipline in and have the correct intensity. Those are things you learn over time, but you’ve gotta have fire in the belly to be great.”
On being an inspiration to today's players.
“I hope I am, but they’re an inspiration to me to keep going.”
On how the game has changed.
“They’re so much better than we were. They’re great athletes now. The strings and rackets have changed, and information on fitness and nutrition keeps getting better."
Find out more about King's battle against knee pain at rediscoveryourgo.com.
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