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Equality's the name of the game in Billie Jean King Cup

China Daily | Updated: 2020-09-21 09:31
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The Fed Cup has been renamed the Billie Jean King Cup in honor of the tennis and equality icon - pictured (center) with Martina Navratilova (right). ITF TENNIS VIA REUTERS

Tennis great Billie Jean King hopes the renaming of the Fed Cup in her honor can help the competition expand to more countries.

On Thursday, the International Tennis Federation announced that the Billie Jean King Cup will become the first major global team competition to be named after a woman, with the prize fund set to match the corresponding men's competition, the Davis Cup.

As well as being a legend of the sport, 12-time major winner King is an icon for gender equality thanks to her pioneering work on the women's circuit in the 1970s.

Now the 76-year-old hopes the Billie Jean King Cup can bring more positive change to the court by increasing the competition's global reach.

"I'd like to get more countries (involved)," King said. "We have 116, the guys have 142. The cultures are different in a lot of countries. We're going to have a lot of work ahead of us to break things down.

"There is nothing quite like the feeling of representing your country and being part of a team, which is why this competition is so special and important to me.

"It is an honor to have the women's world cup of tennis carry my name and a responsibility I will not take lightly. Our job is to share this vision with future generations of young girls, because if you can see it, you can be it."

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Virginia Slims Circuit, which was established by King and eight other players known as the 'Original 9' and which ultimately led to the creation of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) in 1973.

Those groundbreaking efforts mean today's top players can enjoy lucrative prize funds and multimillion-dollar endorsement deals.

"Today, the players are living our dream, and we're thrilled for them," King told Associated Press. "Women's tennis is the leader in women's sports. We are also leaders in the fight for justice and equality."

Newly crowned US Open champion Naomi Osaka said the renamed tournament will "mean a lot more" now.

"For me, she's truly an inspiration and she always texts me really nice messages," the 22-year-old Japanese star said of King. "It's always very nice to see someone so respected just care so much about the game."

The rebranding also follows the introduction of a new finals format that will bring the 12 best countries and regions together over one week in Budapest to compete to become world champion.

Prize money is increasing to $12 million for players plus another $6 million for competing national federations-bringing it on par with the Davis Cup.

"We feel it's long overdue," ITF president David Haggerty said. "All major team competitions, including the Davis Cup, are named after men, and we think it's really fitting that the women's world cup of tennis would be named after someone as iconic as Billie Jean King, who changed the face of women's sports."

King's most famous match came in 1973 when she beat 55-year-old Bobby Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in the milestone 'Battle of the Sexes'.

Her association with the Fed Cup goes back to its founding, when she was a member of the United States team that won the inaugural tournament in 1963 at Queen's Club in London.

Then 19 years old, she recalled prodding her teammates: "This is history being made. We have to win it, so we always know we were the first. Come on! They said, Oh god, not you again. We know what the deal is."

King said she "absolutely" will attend next year's finals (April 13-18) in the Hungarian capital, unless COVID-19 dictates otherwise.

The 2020 finals for both the Fed Cup and Davis Cup were scrapped because of the pandemic, although qualifying nations will maintain their places for the 2021 finals.

King said she's "so fortunate" to be honored by the ITF. She recalled the late tennis journalist Bud Collins proposing a Fed Cup name change years ago.

"He said it had a horrible name. I had heard then that they were talking about naming me, or Chris Evert, or maybe another player," King said.

"It never came to fruition through the years. I know how lucky I am and blessed."

ITF vice-president Katrina Adams described the renaming as "a significant moment in our sport "and added: "The Davis Cup is named after a man (Dwight Davis), so it is absolutely right that the women's world cup of tennis is named after a woman.

"Given all she has achieved in our sport and her tireless efforts to champion equality around the world, I can't think of a more worthy recipient of this honor than Billie Jean King."

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