NEW YORK (Reuters) - Half a century after she began her fight for pay equity in tennis, Billie Jean King said the time was long overdue to bring the men’s and women’s games together as Roger Federer called on Wednesday for the ATP and WTA tours to merge.
King, along with her fellow players comprising the so-called “Original 9”, launched a campaign for equal prize money two years after the sport’s Open Era began in 1968 and she wanted a unified governing body for men and women from the start.
“I heard about the men starting an association and I went to a lot of the guys and I said, ‘Why don’t we have one association, so we can all be together and we would be such a phenomena’,” she said.
The Association of Tennis Professionals launched in 1972 and the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973, in what King described as “Plan B”.
Her hopes for a unified body were reignited when 20-times Grand Slam winner Roger Federer expressed support for the idea.
“Am I the only one thinking that now is the time for men’s and women’s tennis to be united and come together as one?” the Swiss wrote on Twitter, prompting a flurry of positive responses from the tennis community.
Former world number one King claimed 12 Grand Slam singles singles titles in her career, making her one of the most successful players in women’s tennis.
“It just shows you culturally and generationally how the younger men today, they really do believe their daughters and sons should have equal opportunities,” King said.
Her victory over Bobby Riggs in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match cemented King’s status as a leading figure for women’s empowerment in the world of sports and beyond.
“I’ve always felt we’re stronger together, that’s my whole philosophy,” said King. “When you get to know people, then you care more.
“In my day, the men culturally just could not wrap their heads around us ever making a dime.”
King, 76, said she would like to see the different ranking systems in men’s and women’s tennis eliminated as part of a series of changes to simplify the game for fans.
“You know how they have these 1000s, 500 and 250s and then the women’s have premiers – we need to throw all that out, we need to throw everything out and start over and have the same systems,” said King.
“Everything’s about the fans - we’ve got to make it more simple for them to understand what the heck we’re doing.”
Reporting by Amy Tennery, editing by Ed Osmond