Billie Jean King’s accomplishments for tennis, especially on the Women’s Tennis Association, are well known and documented. But her achievements in tennis often gets overshadowed by her incredible activism.

An important aspect of her success in creating a more equal sport for women was that she was an exceptionally talented player who was at her competitive best whenever she was on court. She was one of the first top women players to use a metal racquet frame and the first woman in the history of sports to win $100,000 in a single year. The daughter of a firefighter father and homemaker mother, picked her game from a modest background and became the best in the world.

Inspiration beyond sport: Billie Jean King’s enduring battle for gender equality, not just in tennis

She knew that her ambition for her career and the sport could only be followed if she let her racquet do the talking before speaking up. “Unless I was number 1, I wouldn’t be listened to,” she had said. And knowing that she was not only listened to, but also celebrated for her views and work that changed a sport completely, it’s hard not imagine how good a player she was.

In her career she won 12 singles titles, 16 women’s doubles and 11 mixed doubles titles at Majors and her total of 39 titles is behind only Margaret Court and Martina Navratilova. In the Open Era, she has eight titles, the seventh best in history. She also held the world number 1 ranking in women’s tennis from 1966-1968, from 1971-1972, and in 1974.

While it was at Wimbledon that King was her most successful, with a record of 20 titles combined, the American had a special connect with the US Open. Here’s an overview of her performance at her home Slam.

Singles: 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974

Doubles: 1964 (Karen Hantze), 1967 (Rosie Casals), 1974 (Rosie Casals), 1978 (Martina Navratilova), 1980 (Martina Navratilova)

Mixed Doubles: 1967 (Owen Davidson), 1971 (Owen Davidson), 1973 (Owen Davidson), 1976 (Phil Dent)

After winning back-to-back titles in the early 1970s, she threatened to quit the Major with other women players in the organisation she had pioneered if the male and female champions were not paid the same. In 1973, the US Open became the first Grand Slam to offer equal prize money to men and women – a huge moment for women’s tennis.

Back then, nobody would have imagined that King would have such an impact on the game that the venue of the last Grand Slam of the year will become known as USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in the years to come.

She won the US Open a total four times and her three singles titles in the Open era are behind only Chris Evert, Serena Williams, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova – all greats of the game. She also had nine more titles in women’s and mixed doubles.

Billie Jean King in US Open finals (singles)

Result Year  Opponent  Score
Runner-up 1965  Margaret Court 6–8, 5–7
Winner 1967  Ann Haydon-Jones 11–9, 6–4
Open  Era Begins
Runner-up 1968  Virginia Wade 4–6, 2–6
Winner 1971  Rosemary Casals 6–4, 7–6
Winner 1972  Kerry Melville Reid 6–3, 7–5
Winner 1974  Evonne Goolagong Cawley 3–6, 6–3, 7–5

King in US Open finals (women's doubles)

Result  Year Partner  Opponents Score
Runner-up 1962  Karen Hantze Susman  Maria Bueno Darlene Hard 6–4, 3–6, 2–6
Winner 1964  Karen Hantze Susman  Margaret Court Lesley Turner Bowrey 3–6, 6–2, 6–4
Runner-up 1965  Karen Hantze Susman  Carole Caldwell Graebner Nancy Richey Gunter 4–6, 4–6
Winner 1967  Rosemary Casals  Mary Ann Eisel Curtis Donna Floyd Fales 4–6, 6–3, 6–4
Runner-up 1966  Rosemary Casals  Maria Bueno Nancy Richey Gunter 3–6, 4–6
Winner 1974  Rosemary Casals  Françoise Dürr Betty Stöve 7–6, 6–7, 6–4
Open Era 
Runner-up 1968  Rosemary Casals  Maria Bueno Margaret Court 6–4, 7–9, 6–8
Winner 1978  Martina Navratilova  Kerry Melville Reid Wendy Turnbull 7–6, 6–4
Runner-up 1973  Rosemary Casals  Margaret Court Virginia Wade 6–3, 3–6, 5–7
Winner 1980  Martina Navratilova  Pam Shriver Betty Stöve 7–6, 7–5
Runner-up 1975  Rosemary Casals  Margaret Court Virginia Wade 5–7, 6–2, 6–7
Runner-up 1979  Martina Navratilova  Betty Stöve Wendy Turnbull 5–7, 3–6

King in US Open finals (mixed doubles)

Partner Year  Partner  Opponents  Score
Winner 1967  Owen Davidson  Rosemary Casals Stan Smith 6–3, 6–2
Open Era 
Runner-up 1975  Fred Stolle  Rosemary Casals Richard Stockton 3–6, 6–7
Winner 1971  Owen Davidson  Betty Stöve Rob Maud 6–3, 7–5
Runner-up 1977  Vitas Gerulaitis  Betty Stöve Frew McMillan 2–6, 6–3, 3–6
Winner 1973  Owen Davidson  Margaret Court Marty Riessen 6–3, 3–6, 7–6
Runner-up 1978  Ray Ruffels  Betty Stöve Frew McMillan 3–6, 6–7
Winner 1976  Phil Dent  Betty Stöve Frew McMillan 3–6, 6–2, 7–5

In New York, she was up against the best en route her titles in 1971, 72 and 74 in players such as Chris Evert, Rosemary Casals, Margaret Court, Kerry Melville, Julie Heldman and Evonne Goolagong. And with her brand of attacking tennis she flourished on the grass courts that the US Open was played on till 1975. (The US Open changed its surface from grass to clay in 1975 and then to hard court in 1978)

With a height of under 5’5”, her biggest strength was her court speed which made up for her relative lack of reach. Her official website describes her strengths as “unparalleled court speed, forceful net game, and fierce competitiveness.”

She was adept at serve and volley, relying on it in the mid-70s when many focussed on the baseline, her aggressive game at the net and competitiveness made her a force to reckon with. She was also incredibly fit and agile, a fact that helped her win Major titles till 1975, when she was well over 30 years – an age that even modern players have struggled with physicality.

This is how Steve Tignor described King’s game in a profile on, celebrating the 50 greatest tennis players.

“She was an unceasing attacker who used speed rather than stature to cover the net and pressure opponents. She was also a more overtly passionate and emotional player than her most of her reserved amateur-era opponents; she threw herself into every shot, and into every match. But as King showed in her most famous victory, over Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes, she was also a savvy tactician who could adapt her game to her opponent.”  

For those who could not watch Billie Jean King at her prime, here’s a look at her winning performances at the US Open, a chance to see one of the greatest in the game at her best:


Bonus viewing: Billie Jean King at Wimbledon