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"We were the best players in the world and they were calling us amateurs; we fought like crazy" - Billie Jean King opens up about her battle for equality in tennis

BNP Paribas WTA Finals: Singapore 2014 - Day Four
Billie Jean king at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals: Singapore 2014 - Day Four.

Billie Jean King recently reflected on her playing days, a big part of which was her fight for equality between men's and women's tennis. King is known to be a pioneer in the battle for equal pay in the sport. She shed more light on the same and also her efforts to get tennis recognized as a professional sport back in the day.

King sat down for a discussion with a few other tennis players, including Serena Williams, Borna Coric, and Reilly Opelka, for tennis racket manufacturer Wilson Tennis. They discussed all things tennis over dinner, during which King went down memory lane and spoke about the challenges she faced as a professional tennis player.

While there were many challenges, King explained how the fact that tennis was considered an amateur sport in the 1960s was a major hindrance. Being called "amateur players" despite being the best tennis players in the world did not go down well with King and her colleagues, who "fought like crazy" back then.

"In the old days, 75 percent of the tournaments were played on grass, so you guys are experiencing the opposite of what my generation experienced and the generations before me experienced. I only made 14 dollars a day, so it was very different," Billie Jean King said to the younger players sitting beside her during the discussion.
"We were the best players in the world and they were calling us amateurs. Amateur means it's a hobby and pro means you're really good. So we fought, during the 60s we fought like crazy to have a pro sport," King added.

While the battle to get tennis recognized as a pro sport was still on, King was presented with another challenge, that of equal pay. The challenge first came to light when she learned that she was given considerably less prize money than her male counterpart Rod Laver for winning Wimbledon.

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"Rod Laver won 2000 pounds and I won 750 pounds; I had two fights now" - Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King and Rod Laver at The Championships - Wimbledon 2018.
Billie Jean King and Rod Laver at The Championships - Wimbledon 2018.

Billie Jean King revealed that she was once paid a mere 750 pounds for winning Wimbledon, while Rod Laver, who was the men's singles champion that same year, was paid 2,000 pounds. That was when she realized she had another fight on her hands. King went on to appreciate the fact that things have improved for the current generation of players, and further stated that she and other players of her generation fought hard to ensure exactly that.

"In 1960s, at Wimbledon, Rod Laver won 2000 pounds and I won 750 pounds, so I went, 'Oh no, I have two fights. To have the place to play and to make more money.' It's been a long journey but I'm really happy you guys don't have to put up with that. What we fought for was for future generations not to deal with what we were dealing with," Billie Jean King said.

King's work promoting equality in tennis has brought about a lot of positive changes in the sport over the years. There is still a long way to go for equal prize money in tennis across tournaments and King continues to be a vocal champion for the same.

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Edited by Nihal Taraporvala
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