Billie Jean King (née Moffitt) is one of the most influential figures in the history of women’s tennis. Born in Long Beach, California on November 22, 1943, King made her Grand Slam debut in the US National Championships – which would become the US Open, although the Open Era did not begin until 1968 – in 1959 at the age of 15. She lost to compatriot Justina Bricka in the first round on that occasion, despite holding a match point in the first set.
However, at the time of her retirement from competitive tennis in 1983, King had won a total of 39 Grand Slam titles – 12 in singles, 16 in women’s doubles and 11 in mixed doubles – more than any other female player in history bar Margaret Court and Martina Navratilova. She turned professional at the start of the Open Era and, in 1971, became the first female athlete, of any description, to win over $100,000 in a single season.
King was particulary successful at Wimbledon, where she won 20 titles – a record she shares with Martina Navratilova – including six singles titles between 1966 and 1975. Indeed, she completed a so-called ‘career Grand Slam’ in women’s singles and mixed doubles and won women’s doubles titles at Wimbledon, the French Open and the US Open. She also won the Federation Cup, which was renamed the Billie Jean King Cup in 2020, seven times and the Wightman Cup nine times.
A pioneer for gender equality, social justice, including LGBTQ+ rights, King was instrumental in the foundation of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), thereby uniting women’s professional tennis into a single tour. Nowadays, the WTA Tour consists of over 50 events worldwide. King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987, the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and, in 2006, the USTA National Tennis Center was renamed in her honour.