Sports

Billie Jean King talks tennis, LGBT athletes, keys to a successful career

Billie Jean at the hospitality pavilion at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York on Sept.4, 2014. Charles Krupa, AP

Billie Jean at the hospitality pavilion at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York  on Sept.4, 2014. Charles Krupa, AP

Billie Jean at the hospitality pavilion at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York on Sept. 4, 2014.

NEW YORK — Billie Jean King is so busy attending events during the U.S. Open, she hardly has time to watch matches at the venue that bears her name.

However, King still has plenty of opinions on tennis and other topics. She believes Serena Williams can win “tons” more Grand Slam titles and Michael Sam “made history” despite not making the roster of an NFL team.

Williams will try for her sixth U.S. Open title and 18th major on Sunday when she faces Caroline Wozniacki. King won four of her 12 major singles titles in New York, her last coming 40 years ago against Evonne Goolagong at Forest Hills.

“She should win at least six or seven or eight,” King said. “If she wins this, it will have saved her year, basically.”

Williams is attempting to turn her season around after failing to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. She’s gone 18-1 since Wimbledon, winning tournaments in Stanford and Cincinnati en route to the U.S. Open. She’s relied on big serves — around 118 mph — to reach the final at Flushing Meadows.

Sam recently got cut from the St. Louis Rams, but latched onto the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad. King hopes “this will tee him up for other opportunities. I think it’s great he’s getting a second chance.”

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett asked her “to come to training camp to talk to the guys” but her schedule didn’t allow it. Maybe next year.

Here’s what to know about King’s last U.S. Open title, gay athletes and longevity on the court:

FOREST HILLS:

Plenty has changed at the U.S. Open over 40 years, from the wooden rackets, training methods and venues. Players held their own balls, used one towel to wipe their brow and stood during changeovers. Spectators sat on lawn chairs near the baseline of side courts.

Technology replaced the person with a finger on net to feel let serves, now read by a sensor. Speed guns record serve velocity.

King almost didn’t enter the 1974 U.S. Open, still worn out from starting the WTA tour the year before, playing Bobby Riggs and starting World Team Tennis.

“I was behind the whole match. People said the tennis was great. I just remember being at the net shaking hands. I was in shock,” King said of the 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 win in horseshoe-shaped main stadium featuring about 12,000 wooden seats. “I was so exhausted, I think I dropped my racket.

“It was such an exciting day because it was the first time I remember it was standing-room only. I knew tennis was gaining momentum.”

ON MICHAEL SAM:

King said Sam was on the “bubble” at his defensive position in Rams training camp, but “he’s made history anyway.”

So when will gay athletes no longer be news? “When we have more guys who are gay and it’s a non-issue. I don’t know how many gay football players in the NFL it will take.”

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