From the Avon Cup on Marco Island, FL.
THIS OLD LADY IS TENNIS' KING
The Miami Herald
Tuesday, January 11, 1983
The Grand Old Lady of tennis, as Billie Jean King calls herself, probably has retired as many times as Muhammad Ali.
But nothing seems to KO her. Not five knee operations nor one on an ankle. Not age (she'll turn 40 this year). And not hostile reaction to Marilyn Barnett's "galimony" suit against her resulting from their admitted affair.
People scoffed when King entered the singles draw at Wimbledon last summer. Wouldn't her bones creak too much? Why couldn't she retire "with dignity" as she had promised back in 1975?
Yet, King conquered players young enough to be her daughter en route to reaching Wimbledon's semifinals, losing to Chris Evert Lloyd. The Old Lady taught those whippersnappers a thing or two about court savvy and determination.
But was that her last hurrah? Will she finally hang up her racquet, at least in singles play? And what will life after tennis be like for the woman who generally is regarded as being the most influential person in bringing tennis out of the country clubs and to the masses?
"I'd like to do some other things in life, though I'm sure it will be related to tennis," King said at the Tennis Industry's National Buying Show that ends today at the Miami Beach Convention Center. "I've thought all year about what I should do.
"I'd like to get into motivation, probably through lectures and books. I talked to coaches, athletes and teachers about motivation at Minneapolis last year and really enjoyed it.
"I've also thought about having a baby. But maybe I'm too old. At 39 you get a little nervous. Maybe I'll adopt."
King will adopt a wait-and-see attitude concerning her future on the court. She'll continue to play singles, at least through Wimbledon. She'll compete in the $100,000 Avon Cup at Marco Island, Fla., beginning Monday, but will pass up the Murjani Cup at Palm Beach Gardens the following week "because I haven't had a vacation."
She'll also play in four or five tournaments on the newly created over-30 women's circuit. ("It should be over-35 because I'm 39," she joked). And she'll compete in Team Tennis, the league her husband Larry heads.
"Then I'll re-evaluate things in August," she said.
King, who has won six singles titles and a record 20 over- all titles at Wimbledon, wants to win another. "I'd like to win mixed doubles, if I can find a partner," she said. "I still think I'm good enough."
What about more television commentary as she has done occasionally for NBC?
"I'm not sure," she said. "Everybody has been nice to me, but I'm not sure if it's really for me. Maybe it's too inactive for me. If I were a producer or director, it would be more meaningful. Or if I was a super commentator like Bud Collins or Dick Enberg. I'd rather be in the background creating."
Billie Jean always has been creating. She helped found the Women's Sports Foundation, was the first woman to coach a coed team in professional sports when she took over the Philadelphia Freedoms of World Team Tennis in 1974, and helped launch the magazine Women's Sports.
How about politics? How about Billie Jean for senator?
"If I felt I could be really effective, I'd be interested," she replied. "I wouldn't be in it just for winning votes. But I'd probably want to be in the background."
She paused for a moment, then said, "Maybe I could motivate the country -- like a prime minister."
King says only a small percentage of people have reacted negatively against her since Barnett's lawsuit in the summer of 1981. The damage mainly has been financial. She says her business managers estimate she has lost at least $1.5 million in potential income.
"Yonex rackets (which she represented at the equipment show) and Nike are the only two to stay by me," she said.
The first firm to sign her since the suit is the Terraces of Turnberry, a development in North Miami Beach in which she is buying a condominium. Her coach, Owen Davidson, also is buying there.
"I thought, after Wimbledon, I would get at least one phone call (of a business nature)," King said, "but I got nothing."
A visitor to the equipment show asked her if she thought that was unfair.
"That's life," King said. "You learn about people. But I think things will start changing."