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Q & A

There's no slowing down for Billie Jean King

June 15, 2008|Melissa Murphy | Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Billie Jean King is far from slowing down.

The 64-year-old tennis great recently presided over the grand opening of her Women's Sports Center in the new Sports Museum of America in lower Manhattan. Her coed World Team Tennis league starts its 33rd season in July with a new franchise in Washington featuring Serena Williams. And King's new book, "Pressure is a Privilege, Lessons I've Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes," will be released in August to commemorate the 35th anniversary of her match with Bobby Riggs.

She'll also be on TV ads for a weight-loss program, car insurance and a brokerage firm. King found time to serve up some answers during a recent Q&A with The Associated Press:

Q: What's attracting visitors to the museum wing, the first dedicated to women's sports?

A: Our International Women's Sport Center is one of the two most popular areas of the Sports Museum of America, that and NASCAR. The kids want to get in the car and they want come to us. So that's good, we're very interactive. I think it's important to connect with both genders, but we need to highlight girls and women because we're really underserved.

We'll keep rotating profiles, we have 130 women Hall of Famers, and a sports timeline from 1811 [the first women's golf tournament in Scotland] to today.

Q: Besides 15-year-old Tammy Hendler of the Sacramento Capitals playing against 51-year-old Martina Navratilova of the Boston Lobsters and free rackets for kids under 16, what's new with World Team Tennis this season?

A: We added a team in D.C. this year. It's quite amazing how fortunate we are that the greatest players in the world help us out and play and want to be part of the community. Serena and Venus Williams have been particularly fantastic to World Team Tennis. They believe in what we're trying to do -- and that's take tennis to the people. They love the team aspect and they particularly love the young people.

In World Team Tennis, we play together. Every little boy or girl who comes to watch a World Team Tennis match sees my philosophy on life -- men and women are cooperating and being good to each other. And that's what this world needs.

Q: What prompted you to write your eighth book?

A: It's been 20 years since I've done a book. It's more about life and values than it is about tennis. I talk about Bobby Riggs quite a bit and what a hero he was to me. He always had great spirit and was such a good sport -- after the match! If you're not in your 40s or 50s, it might be a fun read for you as well as the ones who lived through it. The more you know about history, the more you know about yourself.

It will take an hour and half, it's quick. Visualization is a very big part of the book, there's a chapter on it. It teaches you coping skills, too. I bring up a lot of my fears in the book as well. We all have our tough times. No matter what your age, I think you'll get something out of it.

Q: Who do you like at Wimbledon this year?

A: [Rafael] Nadal and [Novak] Djokovic are playing better than a year ago. Djokovic won the Australian, he loves to perform, loves being out there just like Nadal.

Federer is still the one to beat. He's a genius, probably the greatest player that's ever lived. He's such a great person, he's got a good soul, he's very aware of the world around him.

On the women's side? I'm going to miss [Justine] Henin. I just loved watching her backhand and her all-court play. She was so tiny and had to be such a great athlete to be No. 1 in the world. But the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport . . . Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, those two are great. And Maria Sharapova, if she can get that serve going and have more self-confidence.

Q: If you were the head of a sports network, what changes would you make?

A: I'd start having more and more women's sports on. I love sports because of the human element. I think most people can relate to that, whether they like a sport or not. It's about the people. The reason people think they know all these male athletes is because they see them all the time. If they see us enough, they will definitely like us. And make sure you take boys and girls to women's sports. The girls are taken to men's sports. Don't separate.

Q: What do you think of women playing an exhibition match like Roger Federer-Pete Sampras at Madison Square Garden? Perhaps Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf could pack the house?

A: I'd hope so. Talk about two of the all-time greats, how could they not? That would be a good one. I'd just love to see them walk on the court together.

When Federer played Sampras it was fabulous, it was electric. It was sold out and everybody wanted to be seen, which I thought was pretty funny.

Q: What's your five-year plan?

A: I thought about a TV show -- why not -- for the boomers. Get the grandkids on. I know I want to do more books. I like self-improvement, but I want to do THE book [autobiography]. I've done a couple in the past, but a lot of years have gone by.

It's the first time in my life I'm not clear on my focus. It's been good because it's a challenge. I have a huge sense of urgency, I've always had since I've been a young girl. I love tennis . . . with diabetes and obesity on the rise, you can't beat it as a lifetime sport.

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