Billie Jean King & Margaret Court

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 15: Former Tennis player Billie Jean King appears onstage during the Women's Sports Foundation's 28th Annual Salute to Women in Sports at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on October 15, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for WSF)
Over the years there have been several outstanding women tennis players, but there are two women who stand head and shoulders above the rest of their contemporaries, the awesome Billie Jean King of the USA and the legendary Margaret Smith Court of Australia.

They virtually single-handedly changed the face of women’s tennis, not only with their breathtaking displays of athleticism on court, but also the incredible support they gave to the game of tennis off the courts.

They too were the first combatants of the inaugural Fed Cup in 1963, with Billie Jean taking the trophy for the first time.

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King will be remembered for her 12 Grand Slam singles titles, her “career Grand Slam” in 1972 and her consistent display for Team USA that won the Fed Cup seven times during her tenure. What made her into a true icon of women’s tennis, however, was her victory over ‘chauvinist’ Bobby Riggs at a promotional challenge match dubbed ‘The Battle of the Sexes’. Riggs had been a top men’s player in the 1930s and 1940s. He made disparaging claims about women’s tennis saying that it was inferior to the men’s game and that at age 55 he could beat the current top female players.

The match engendered enormous public and media interest and Billie Jean King beat Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in front of over 30 000 spectators and a TV audience estimated at 50 million! “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self-esteem,” she said.

She too was tireless in her quest for equal prize money for men and women, and she became the first women athlete to be named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1972. King guided the US to Fed Cup victory in 1996 when she took over as captain. Her tenure ended in 2003 when Zina Garrison Jackson succeeded her.

Margaret Court

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM: Australian tennis player Margaret Court-Smith plays a forehand, 01 July 1971, during the Wimbledon championships. Court-Smith won 24 women's singles titles in Grand Slam tournaments - 11 of them in Australia, between 1960 and 1973. (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images) Fed Cup tennis champion Margaret Court was intoxicating on the tennis court. She took the tennis world by storm when she won the first of seven Australian Open singles titles on her debut in 1960. Then she just went on to win title after title, Grand Slam after Grand Slam, until she racked up an unbelievable run of wins and records, most of which still stand today, thirty years later!

She became an inspiration to women when she continued her competitive tennis career through the births of her first two children. In fact she lost the Wimbledon Open tennis final in 1971 to Evonne Goolagong Cawley while pregnant with her son, Daniel. The only tiny little blemish on her resume is that she lost to ‘tormentor’ Bobby Riggs in an exhibition match.

Margaret Court was so very dominant in her career that she won 62 Grand Slam titles, more so than any other player, male or female, in tennis. Court one at Melbourne Park has been renamed the Margaret Court Arena, and her image has been used on Australian postage stamps.

Margaret Court’s Tennis Record:

  • 25 Grand Slam singles titles
  • 19 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles
  • 19 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles
  • Two, career ‘boxed set’ Grand Slam titles – winning the singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles at all four Grand Slam events!
  • She won 62 of the 85 Grand Slam finals in which she appeared
  • Her won-lost record in Grand Slam singles tournaments was 210-23

Fed Cup tennis champions Billie Jean King & Margaret Court have set the bar high. Which tennis players will fill the shoes of these two extraordinary sportswomen at the 2009 Fed Cup?