New York’s freeway signs might illustrate Billie Jean King’s international fame best. It’s just “BJK National Tennis Center.”
Not only was King one of women’s tennis greatest players ever, she also was one of its most innovative figures. She led the fight for women’s equality in athletics. And who could forget that night in Houston’s Astrodome in 1973 when she defeated Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” and changed women’s sports forever.
King is in Charleston again, this time for the second World TeamTennis Finals Weekend at Family Circle Tennis Center. Play begins Friday at 6:30 p.m. with the Western Conference title match pitting the Orange County Breakers against the Sacramento Capitals. The event runs through Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. WTT Championship match.
The WTT, with its innovative format, is King’s brainchild. The King Trophy will go to Sunday’s winner.
King has spent most of her recent days at her namesake tennis center, watching the just completed U.S. Open.
“We love it here, and want to see (the WTT Finals) grow,” the WTT co-founder said Wednesday at Family Circle Tennis Center. “I would love to stay here, but it’s also (the Family Circle’s) decision. The players are excited about coming back to Charleston.”
Orange County arrived here Tuesday and practiced Wednesday.
King is all about WTT and its team format. It’s so different from even the Family Circle Cup.
“Fans can cheer, yell and root for the teams. We’re fan friendly,” King said.
As an example of this type atmosphere, anyone 16-and-under can go onto the Family Circle Stadium court after the Friday and Saturday sessions and get players’ autographs.
Venus Williams, John McEnroe and Leander Paes will be there Saturday night when the defending champion Washington Kastles try to extend their 30-match winning streak in the 6:30 p.m. Eastern Conference final against the New York Sportimes.
This WTT Finals Weekend has been an on-and-off again affair for the Sportimes’ Martina Hingis. The latest word from Hingis came Tuesday night when she pulled out of the event for personal reasons.
The Sportimes were fortunate to pick up Family Circle Cup doubles regular Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic. Peschke was a doubles quarterfinalist at both the U.S. Open and Family Circle Cup this year.
“Kveta has always played well here,” Family Circle Cup general manager Bob Moran said.
Peschke is expected to play doubles, while Ashley Harkleroad will take over Hingis’ singles role for the Sportimes. Of course, McEnroe is the headliner for the Sportimes, while Venus Williams and Paes are the big names for the Kastles.
With two months to promote the WTT Finals compared to only a few hours last year, Moran is optimistic about this weekend’s attendance.
He expects similar attendance to a year ago, “2,000 to 2,500” for each of the three sessions.
“South Carolina and Clemson are playing home football games and there’s high school football on Friday night,” he said.
“We hope to break even this year. We had a lot of costs on the front end last year that we shouldn’t have this year.”
After last year’s eight-hour rain-plagued final, Moran is expecting good weather this weekend, and that could have a significant impact on the number of walk-ups.
Reach James Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org. See his columns on pro tennis at ubitennis.com/english.
WHAT: WTT Finals Weekend
WHEN: Friday, Saturday, Sunday
WHERE: Family Circle Tennis Center
TICKETS: 1-800-677-2293 (event offering a free terrace level ticket for the Sunday final with the purchase of Friday-Saturday tickets, box seats not included)