Billie Jean King on the career moment she’ll ‘never forget’ and the growth of the tournament named in her honor

Billie Jean King Cup: A Grand Slam of Women’s Tennis Championships

The Billie Jean King Cup is the world’s largest annual international team competition in women’s sport, often referred to as the World Cup of tennis. Celebrating its 60th anniversary this month, this prestigious tournament brings together countries from around the globe to compete against each other. Tennis icon Billie Jean King, after whom the tournament is named, shares her personal memories of participating in the event.

King played a significant role in the early success of the US team, winning the inaugural event in 1963 and going on to secure six more titles as a player, including one as a player captain in 1976. She continued her winning streak as a non-playing captain, adding three more titles to her repertoire. In an interview with CNN, the 79-year-old King expressed her appreciation for the shift from individual play to representing one’s country, emphasizing the profound sense of pride that comes with playing for something greater than oneself.

This year, a record-breaking 134 nations have gradually been narrowed down to the final 12 teams that will compete at the BJK Cup Finals in Seville, Spain, from November 7-12. The participating countries include Spain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany, the US, Australia, Switzerland, Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Kazakhstan.

The tournament has come a long way since its inception, evolving from an amateur competition with 16 nations and no prize money to a widely recognized global tournament with prize money equivalent to the men’s Davis Cup. This year’s event offers an unprecedented prize purse of $9.6 million, with the winning team set to receive $2.4 million.

King herself captained the US team, which included legendary players Venus and Serena Williams, to victory in 1999. Despite her own remarkable career achievements, King cherishes the memory of winning the very first tournament and highlights the historical significance of that achievement.

The competition, previously known as the Federation Cup and then the Fed Cup, was renamed the Billie Jean King Cup three years ago to honor King’s immense contributions to the sport. As a staunch advocate for women’s tennis, King is determined to elevate the tournament’s popularity and envisions ambitious plans for its future expansion. Her goal is to engender growth in women’s tennis by increasing the number of participating countries.

In addition to her involvement in the BJK Cup, King has been a trailblazer for women’s sports throughout her career. She played a pivotal role in establishing the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) in 1973, and famously defeated Bobby Riggs in “The Battle of the Sexes” exhibition match the same year. Even in retirement, King continues to advocate for equal pay and better conditions for female athletes, using her platform to drive positive change.

King also recognizes the importance of media coverage in advancing women’s sports and believes that increased media exposure could lead to more opportunities and financial support for female athletes. She acknowledges the progress made since her own playing days and remains optimistic about the future.

The 12 teams participating in this year’s finals are divided into four round-robin groups, with the winners of each group advancing to the semifinals. Each tie consists of two singles matches and one doubles match. Notably, some prominent players will be absent from the tournament due to scheduling conflicts with the WTA Finals.

Switzerland, the defending champion, will face stiff competition as they strive to retain their title. When asked to predict the winner of the 2023 crown, King wisely acknowledges the unpredictable nature of this tournament, emphasizing the importance of teamwork.

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