You may have already heard about the Billy Jean King Cup, a one night, single elimination tournament featuring Venus and Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic. It will take place in Madison Square Garden on March 2 and be televised on HBO. Billy Jean King just did a fascinating interview with FOX Sports in anticipation of her namesake exhibition. Some choice snippets are below (my emphasis in bold), or click here for the full thing. You gotta read the ouch-worthy question she’d like to ask Jelena Jankovic!!!
FS.com: There’s a lot of parity right now in women’s tennis. Who do you think will be standing out this season and the next couple years?
King: I think you’re going to see them at the Showdown. I think Jankovic and Ivanovic are very young. To be No. 1, you have to pay your dues and then you’re there and you sustain it. Jankovic needs a weapon. She knows it. She’s in much better shape. She had Pat Etcheberry helping her (recently).
Ivanovic has to get more comfortable. She isn’t comfortable yet … But Jankovic needs a weapon, and to be No. 1 you have to have something that stands out. So she needs to work on that, I think. If I were trying to help her, I’d ask her, ‘What do you think should be your weapon? You know … if you had one.’ And I think that’s what’s missing right now. (my note: OUCH!!!!)
Serena to me is the one to beat. When Serena is firing on all cylinders, she’s the one to beat. I think she’s been focused with what God gave her and also what Venus has. I think Venus needs to continue to go to net more because of her wingspan.
I can’t think of four any more entertaining players. I think it’s a great night. We want to keep tennis in the Garden (after the Pete Sampras-Roger Federer match last year). All the tennis people said, we have to keep tennis in the Garden.
FS.com: You mentioned one of the things you love about tennis is that you can play both individual and team, and you did pretty well in both. What do you think is the ultimate measure of a player’s greatness? Is it simply sheer number of Slams, is it Career Slam, or something more?
King: That’s what you guys have done. In my generation, we didn’t worry about the Slams. Every year in January I was playing in a Virginia Slims tournament. I couldn’t even play in the Australian during some of my best years. Rod Laver missed five years, from ’62 to ’68. I mean, the guy didn’t get to play at Wimbledon for five years when he was at his top. So when you talk about Borg winning five in a row and all that, you have to understand the history, you have to have these caveats. Otherwise people don’t really understand.
When we started professional tennis, we weren’t really worried about majors, we were worried about making a living. So the WTA and the ATP are the ones who forced the majors to do so well.
I wanted us to be together, the men and the women, and they didn’t want us. So that’s the reason we started women’s professional tennis in 1970 when nine of us signed a $1 contract. But that’s not what I wanted. I’ve never gotten what I want. What I want, I want the two associations working together side-by-side, being one voice for the sport. I want team tennis, I want to have a team season and an individual season so our fans can understand what the heck is going on. I don’t think most people understand how it works.
The players keep thinking they’re everything. No, the fans are everything. So I am very big, especially in this country, on teams. Kids want to play on teams. … that’s been my 40-year mantra.
Wow, thanks, BJK, for putting things in perspective. I think she has such a unique and obviously informed take on the game. Imagine, a player who actually cares about the overall fan experience! Although I’d argue that us fans do love the individual competition – there’s no comparing a Roger vs. Rafa best-of-five to Kastles vs. Lobsters!