Billie Jean King is one of tennis’ original revolutionaries but her influence has been felt far beyond her own sport.
The American great not only fought for equality for women’s tennis, including helping to secure equal pay at the US Open, but she inspired a generation of athletes to fight for equity in their own sports, while also excelling on the court herself.
One star who benefited from King’s remarkable career is US skiing legend Lindsey Vonn.
Vonn, who retired from professional skiing in 2019 as the most successful women’s racer of all-time – her compatriot Mikaela Shiffrin has since broken that record – knows a thing or two about battling for equality herself, but says the 39-time grand slam winner has continued to inspire her own fight.
“She’s such an icon and she has never stopped working towards equality. And she’s not young anymore, but she is still working just as hard as she was when she was starting the WTA.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the US Open offering equal prize money for men and women, and King was honored during an on-court ceremony on the opening night of the tournament on Monday.
King and Vonn were both at the ceremony which recognized the work that King, and others, did to secure equity in 1973, the year the WTA was founded by the tennis legend.
“I’m so impressed by her always. She’s such, again, such an inspiration to me and so many women. I just have nothing but respect and praise for her,” Vonn added.
“I ask her all the time, like: ‘How do you travel so much? You’re just nonstop.’ And she’s like: ‘I have to keep going.’ And it’s just so impressive. She’s got some determination. I love it.”
‘A huge inspiration’
Vonn wrote an op-ed for the US Open website in which she detailed her own battle for equality and respect.
In the article, she referenced King’s ‘Battle of the Sexes’ in 1973 – a tennis match against former men’s world No. 1 Bobby Riggs after he claimed he could beat the top female players of the day.
He was 55 at the time of the match and a 29-year-old King gave a huge boost in the women’s battle for equality by beating Riggs in front of an estimated audience of 90 million people worldwide.
“… But Billie Jean was a huge inspiration to me, someone that I always looked up to, my father always pointed her out and the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ was something that I really tried to do in my career.
“I tried to race against the men, and Billie actually gave me some really good advice. But unfortunately, I didn’t do as much as like in my career as Billie Jean, but I’m still working on it and trying my best. And she’s just been an incredible inspiration to all women.”