She laughs at the name, swearing it wasn’t her idea, but that doesn’t stop tennis icon Billie Jean King from putting all her effort into promoting next Monday night’s Billie Jean King Cup on HBO.
The inaugural event matches up three of the four defending Grand Slam champions — Serena Williams from the Australian Open and U.S. Open, Venus Williams from Wimbledon, Ana Ivanovic from the French Open, and U.S. Open runner-up Jelena Jankovic — in a single-elimination event, live from Madison Square Garden. Each player will complete in a one-set match, with the winners advancing to play a standard best-of-three match. (And yes, the pairings ensure there can be an all-Williams final.)
The Billie Jean King Cup coincides with an event called “Tennis Night in America,” a get-out-and-play drive aimed at signing up young people for tennis leagues. It also marks the return of tennis to HBO for the first time in nine years.
HBO has slated three-and-a-half hours for their coverage, which will include a celebration of the ongoing legacy of Billie Jean King.
Part of that legacy has to include the $1.2 million in prize money that will be paid to competitors. Earnings are up 23 percent for women’s professional tennis players this year. In fact, tennis may be the only sport in the world where women command the same kind of respect, endorsements and prize money as men — thanks in no small part to King.
“To have these great athletes and tennis players in one event is great,” King told reporters earlier in the month. “Two players [Jankovic and Ivanovic] that people haven’t seen as much. Venus is playing great, she’s doing great, despite what she says — it always cracks me up when she says she isn’t playing well, and she’s simply terrific.”
The level of King’s involvement in the game is as impressive as ever. At 65, she shows no signs of slowing down. When she’s not drumming up support and speaking at fundraisers, she’s actively working with the world’s best players — including the fellas. She told Tennis Fanhouse that she texts with Andy Roddick all the time.
No one would argue that Billie Jean King doesn’t deserve her own cup. Well, no one except maybe King herself.
Will you tune in to watch on March 2nd? Who would you like to see square-off in the final?