Billie Jean King still bearing arms in tennis battle of the sexes

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Ever since the American won the first Wimbledon singles title of the open era 50 years ago she has fought for equality and, despite some major advances, we are not there yet

Billie Jean King remembers it well. It was 5 July 1968. The American had just won her third straight Wimbledon title, her second grand slam title of that year and her fifth overall at the time. But this one meant that little bit more, the first Wimbledon of the Open era, as tennis finally welcomed back the professionals into the sport, ending the era of “shamateurism” when amateurs were paid under the table. Overjoyed after her win over the Australian Judy Tegart, King collected the trophy from Princess Marina of Kent and then, for the first time, pocketed a cheque as well. That was when things went wrong.

“I knew we were starting to go in the right direction because it was professional and then the prize money was there,” King says. “Then I had another shock, though, at the finals. Because I didn’t really look at the money – I just knew we had money – I got £750 and Rod Laver got £2,000 and I was like: ‘Oh God, here we go again … argh, there’s another battle, we’ve got pro tennis but now the girls are getting a bad deal.’ They thought I should be thrilled with that. I was thrilled we got a cheque, there was no question. I was thrilled with professional tennis. I am just so big on equality, if it was reversed, I would have thought that was wrong, too.”

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Written by Simon Cambers
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