Billie Jean King laid the foundations for professional women’s tennis in the modern era. King’s tenacity was instrumental in ensuring that professional female tennis players are rewarded equally to their male counterparts today. In fact, had it not been for King’s threat to boycott the US Open in 1973 – she was one of the top-ranked female players in the world at the time – the tournament might not have decided to award the men’s and women’s winners the same prize money as soon as they did.
South Africans might not know of King’s connection to the rainbow nation through her life partner, Ilana Kloss.
King and Kloss first met in 1967. At 23, King was the women’s tennis number 1 at the time. She was in South Africa defending her South African Open title, when she noticed a talented 11-year-old girl playing with her dad on one of the outlying courts at Ellis Park. After hitting a few balls with Kloss, King encouraged Kloss’s parents to nurture their talented daughter’s talent, even offering them the name of her own coach.
Ilana Kloss would later be a tennis legend in her own right, becoming South Africa’s youngest No1 player to date in 1973. She was 17, and had won the junior trophy at Wimbledon the year before, as King won the women’s title at Wimbledon in the same year.
1973 was an important year for women’s tennis and for Billie Jean King, as it was also the year that she formed the Women’s Tennis Association, and the year she faced former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs in one of the most-watched televised sports events in US history.
Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs, tells the story of that historical match, and it is also the movie we’ll discuss on Rainbow Talk on Friday, 14 December. Remember to tune in and listen to our full discussion about this Golden Globe-nominated film, and check out the trailer below.