Billie Jean King and Andy Roddick are, unpredictably, two peas in a pod, their on-court tennis careers notwithstanding.
Last year, Andy became part owner of Mylan World TeamTennis, the professional league Billie co-founded in 1974.
Andy seeks to change children in low-income communities via the Andy Roddick Foundation, which has raised more than $11 million since 1995 to provide such youth with abundant opportunities to reach their full potential through education and sports-based mentoring programs. Billie’s impact as an agent of social change transcends her impact in the sports world.
He’s also an ambassador for Athlete Ally, which aims to end homophobia and transphobia in sports by educating allies in the athletic community and empowering them to take a stand. Billie uses her painful experiences and incredible valor to lead the fight for equality and recognition in the LGBT community. Coincidentally, Andy interviewed Billie on his nightly sports discussion show, Fox Sports Live, about her appointment as an openly gay delegate to the Sochi Olympics this spring.
“He is for people,” Billie said. “He’s got it right. He thinks it’s a non-issue, and he’s correct. It should be a non-issue. He’s like, ‘Who cares. Get on with your life. Stop judging others.’ He and I are on the same page.”
They will be on opposite sides of the court, however, when the Philadelphia Freedom face the Austin Aces on Saturday, July 12, at the Cedar Park Center. He headlines the Aces roster. She will be on the Freedom sideline as an assistant coach.
The Aces make their league debut this season, which runs July 6-23. The franchise introduced themselves to the community with a luncheon on Tuesday. Attendees included the mayor, chief of police, and sheriff.
And Billie Jean King. She opened the luncheon with 21 animated, hummingbird-paced minutes before an enthralled crowd of about a hundred at the Vince Young Steakhouse.
The visionary spoke with such loquacity that she rendered Cathy Conley, a celebrated journalist and the event’s moderator, more of a figurehead than an interviewer. Cathy managed just three questions during that time.
Then the global phenomenon confessed in response to Cathy’s final question, “Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.”
The crowd howled, but Billie insisted. It took her grade school teacher calling her parents to force Billie to give an oral book report and narrowly avoid the impending F on the assignment.
“And then I was playing in the finals of a 13-and-under tournament against Carol Caldwell in Santa Monica,” she continued. “Part of me didn’t want to win the match, because I knew I’d have to get up and thank everyone. We were in the third set, and I was so divided. I didn’t know what to do. I said, ‘I can’t get up in front of all of those people and talk. What am I going to do? That means I have to lose.’ I didn’t want to lose.
“Then I said, ‘Billie! Don’t you want to be the No. 1 player in the world? Guess what’s going to happen to you? You’re going to have to get up all the time, because that means you won. You’re going to have to do this!’ And that was a turning point.”
Billie had more turning points before starting high school than an Alps switchback. The first was when Susan Williams invited her to play tennis in fifth grade.
“I didn’t know what tennis was. She said, ‘You get to run, jump, and hit a ball!’ I said, ‘Those are my three favorite things to do! I’ll try it!’”
After her first lesson—a free group session with Clyde Walker in Long Beach—she shared her first epiphany with her mom on the drive home.
“’I’ve found what I want to do with my life! Let’s go home. I want to tell Dad and [younger brother] Randy!’ She’s saying, ‘You’ve got homework. Let’s do that first. How about that?’”
The second came a couple of years later.
“When I was 12, I was at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, sitting in the grandstand, just daydreaming. I started thinking about my sport. Everyone always wore white clothes: white skirts, white shirts, white socks, white shoes. We even played with white balls at the time. And the color of the people were all white, too. And I’m thinking, ‘What’s wrong with this picture? Where is everybody else?’ I didn’t want to get rid of the white people. I wanted to add to them.”
“I already knew it was different for girls, that people wouldn’t listen to me because I was a girl—unless I was No. 1, and then maybe they would. I knew tennis could be my platform to try to help. And here’s what I thought about as a child: I want equal rights and opportunities for boys and girls, men and women.
“We’re all in this world together—men and women—and that’s why it’s important to work together, to really care for and champion each other. And from that moment, I promised I would fight for the rest of my life for equal rights and equal opportunity for everyone.”
That pretty much sums up Mylan World TeamTennis. The structure personifies Billie’s philosophy on life: men and women competing together on a team, with both genders making equal contribution to the end result. The league embodies Billie’s resolve to provide access to tennis and to give back: bringing tennis to communities rather than relying on destination tournaments, giving away 250,000 tennis rackets to children, offering free clinics.
The matches mirror her personality: intense, fast-paced, competitive, entertaining, groundbreaking, rowdy. They feature challenges, instant replay, on-court coaching, dramatic points because of no-ad scoring, substitutions, team members sitting on the court, timeouts, music between points, balls hit into the stands. Cheering is encouraged, as are energetic kids. Each match consists of five sets: men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles. Sets are five games, and each game counts as one point in the team’s cumulative match score.
And the bonus for Austin fans?
“You have Andy Roddick,” Billie said.
Mylan World TeamTennis Information
Home Venue: Cedar Park Center, 2100 Avenue of Stars
Home Matches: July 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 18, 19
Match Times: Doors open at 6 p.m. (11:30 a.m. on July 19). Matches begin at 7:30 p.m. (1 p.m. on July 19).
Tickets: Season tickets start at $98. Mini-plans start at $35. Individual match tickets start at $19.
Roster: Andy Roddick (Top 10 from 2002-2010), Marion Bartoli (2013 Wimbledon champion), Vera Zvonareva (four Grand Slam doubles titles), Eva Hrdinova (18 ITF doubles titles), Treat Huey (career-high doubles ranking of No. 20 in March 2014)
Coach: John Lloyd
Owner: Lorne Abony
Billie Sounds Off…
…on Austin: Austin is a happening place. It’s got a really great vibe. You’ve got young, you’ve got old. You have everything here.
…on a MWTT match: It’s fast-paced. It’s exciting. I played years and years in the league, when I was winning Wimbledon, and I can tell you, it was always the most exciting when I played World TeamTennis.
…on the teams: The teams are representing your community, just like any other sports team. I hope there are some kids in Austin who come out to an Austin Aces match and say, ‘I want to play for that team someday. I want to be a hometown hero and shero’—shero for the girls.
…on the best advice she’s received: I remember one night my dad asked me, ‘What do you think is the most important thing in life?’ He asked Randy, ‘What do you think is the most important thing in life? What do you think? What do you think?’ and we were like, ‘Wha…? What? I think Randy was 5 and I was 10. Dad said, ‘Just think about it. What’s most important?’ So I said, ‘Daddy, what’s most important to you?’ He said, ‘Peace of mind. When I put my head on the pillow at night I want to have peace of mind. Which means I have to have integrity.’ I said, ‘Mom, what about you?’ And she said, ‘To thine own self be true.’
…on co-founding the Women’s Tennis Association: There were nine of us in Houston who had the courage to sign a $1 contract that started women’s professional tennis. We thought we’d be suspended. We thought we’d never play in the U.S. Open or Wimbledon again. But we had to change things. I’d gone to the men first, because I wanted us to be together. They rejected us, so Billie went to Plan B.
…on Title IX: Everybody thinks Title IX is just for women. It says no sex discrimination. It means both genders. If a guy had been getting a raw deal, no no no no. If the girl’s getting a raw deal, no. It’s just that we women were so far behind, it was indirectly [about us].
…on her career if she hadn’t found tennis: I would have wanted to be president of the United States.
…on possibilities: Have a vision for yourself. Every single one of you are a huge influencer for yourself and others. Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, don’t ever underestimate what the human spirit can do.
…on Twitter: Help me get to 100,000. I’m only at 55,000. @BillieJeanKing
Lorne Abony Sounds Off…
…on Austin: Austin is quite frankly the greatest city in America. It’s a music city. World TeamTennis is all about noise and enthusiasm and music. This is well-suited for the city of Austin, well-suited for a high-energy city, for a young city, for a city where Andy Roddick is playing.
…on MWTT: This product is what everyone should be for. It’s gender-inclusive. It’s teamwork. It’s strategic. It’s community. It’s fast-paced.
…on access to the players: Every fan under the age of 16 is entitled to an autograph. I think that’s one of the things that’s going to strike you when you see a World TeamTennis match. It’s going to look and feel like professional sports, but it’s going to have all of the access and right things that sports ought to have but that our country doesn’t have.