At age 78, Billie Jean King received the Legion of Honor from Emmanuel Macron on Friday. And on Saturday, the American legend, who was the originator of the creation of the women’s circuit in the early seventies (WTA) and who won twelve individual Grand Slam titles (thirty-nine counting doubles!), spoke at Roland Garros shortly before the women’s singles final. A relentless advocate of liberties and minorities, she addressed certain issues in a press conference that she loved.
Non-parity in the evening sessions: “I’m sure Amélie will change something next year”
Of the ten matches scheduled for the evening (9pm), during this edition of Roland-Garros in 2022, nine were in the men’s draw (only “night” women’s match: Cornet-Ostapenko). Billie Jean King explained for the first time that he did not oppose Amélie Mauresmo: “It’s his first year, I think you have to give yourself two or three years before you judge. He now holds a formidable position of power. I think he’s doing a great job and will change things next year. »
“BJK” believes that it is also through the organizers that the balance in the attractiveness of the circuits can be restored: “It simply came to our notice then. We need to give both genders the same opportunities. As long as we continue to be treated as second-rate, it will continue to be second-rate. We are talking about the length of the matches, maybe everyone should play the best of three sets? … In any case, obviously there should be more women’s matches in the evening, and I’m sure Amélie will change something in 2023. I know her, she’s a winner. »
Players’ Exhibition: “People Want to Meet People”
Billie Jean King believes that Tours, whether it’s the WTA or the ATP, sometimes work too much on a closed circuit. “Tennis is the most amazing sport. They are so fit! I would like to see how it is done behind the scenes, how they train. I think Netflix is planning it. We need more things like that. Because people want to meet people. For example, if there aren’t as many stories written about women’s tennis as men’s tennis, then the players will continue to be lesser known, less recognized. I would like the stories to be told more off the track, they are human beings. »
From left to right: Gilles Moretton, president of the French Tennis Federation, Iga Swiatek, world number 1 Roland-Garros this Saturday, and Amélie Mauresmo, director of the Porte d’Auteuil Tournament. (N. Luttiau / The team)
Mental Health: “In My Time, We Weren’t Talking About These Things”
Luck in the wake of the unrest that led Naomi Osaka to refuse to participate in the Roland-Garros press conference in 2021, mental health problems in tennis are not, however, a big news in the universe . individual sport. “Mental health problems obviously existed in my day, but we weren’t talking about these things, Billie Jean King recalls. It has always existed. In 1970, you couldn’t talk about that kind of thing. Someone’s emotional part is probably the most important part. Since the 1990s, the WTA has been working in this area, hiring specialists. »
The American has made many friends over the years, and today, when asked what the best part of being a BJK is, she replies: “Relationships refer to relationships created with people. »
Media Relations: “It’s Part of a Professional Athlete’s Job”
Asked why the walls are getting thicker between the world of competitors and the world of media, especially in the name of this famous mental health, Billie Jean King has a very clear opinion: “Journalists are essential because they tell stories. If they hadn’t done it in 1971 when we tried to start the women’s circuit, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I’m not a fan of closing doors between players and the media. It is part of the job of a professional athlete to interact with the press. Inside, it’s interesting, because journalists better understand the human aspect. We have a great WTA school for beginners (young apprentice champions not yet installed on the circuit, editor’s note). When people ask me what players need to learn first, I respond to the business of their sport. Sometimes I chat with a girl and ask her if she has heard from the tournament organizer. She said to me, “Why?” You made money this week, didn’t you? “” Yes. ” Did you give thanks? ”We must thank all the people who take part in all these tournaments every week, underlines“ BJK ”.
The winner of the 1972 Roland Garros continues: “In more general terms, I think we should not let a young person start playing on the circuit until he has fulfilled all the obligations incumbent on a professional athlete. Journalists will meet almost every day. I know there are social networks today and that doubles the time, but they need to be able to grant some interviews. In any case, even if it is complicated in an individual sport, they need to be informed about the business, the media, the specifics of each job they will face. I tell them, everyone is trying to make a living just like you are playing tennis. It’s not just about them, it’s about all of us. »