Billie Jean King's masterclass at Roland-Garros

Billie Jean King’s masterclass at Roland-Garros

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At 78, Billie Jean King received the Legion of Honor from Emmanuel Macron on Friday. And on Saturday, the American legend, who was at the origin of the creation of the women’s tour in the early 1970s (WTA) and who won twelve Grand Slam singles titles (thirty-nine counting doubles!), spoke on Roland-Garros, shortly before the women’s singles final. She is an implacable defender of freedoms and minorities, she addressed certain issues that are very dear to her in a press conference.

No parity in the night sessions: “I’m sure Amélie will change something next year”

Of the ten matches scheduled for the night (9:00 p.m.), during this 2022 edition of Roland-Garros, nine were for the men’s draw (the only women’s match of the “night”: Cornet-Ostapenko). Billie Jean King explained for the first time that she had nothing against Amélie Mauresmo: “It’s his first year, I think you have to give yourself two or three years before passing judgment. He now occupies a formidable position of power. I think he is doing a great job and will turn things around next year. »

“BJK” believes that it is also through the organizers that the balance in the attractiveness of the circuits can be restored: “It will stay that way if we continue to expose the women’s matches less. We must give the same opportunities to both genders. As long as they keep treating us like second class, it’s still second class. We are talking about the duration of the matches, maybe everyone should play the best of three sets?… In any case, of course, there must be more women’s matches at night, and I am sure that Amélie will change something in 2023 I know her, she’s a winner. »

Player exposure: ‘People want to meet people’

Billie Jean King believes that the Tours, whether it’s the WTA or the ATP, sometimes work too much on a closed circuit. “Tennis is the most incredible 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 this. We need more stuff like this. Because people want to meet people. For example, if there are not as many stories written about women’s tennis as about men’s tennis, then the players will continue to be less known, less recognized. I wish the stories were told more off the field, they are human beings. »

From left to right: Gilles Moretton, President of the French Tennis Federation, Iga Swiatek, World No. 1 winner at Roland-Garros this Saturday, and Amélie Mauresmo, Porte d'Auteuil Tournament Director.  (N. Luttiau/The team)

From left to right: Gilles Moretton, President of the French Tennis Federation, Iga Swiatek, World No. 1 winner at Roland-Garros this Saturday, and Amélie Mauresmo, Porte d’Auteuil Tournament Director. (N. Luttiau/The team)

Mental health: “In my day we didn’t talk about these things”

Coming to light after the discomfort that had led Naomi Osaka to refuse to participate in the Roland-Garros press conferences in 2021, mental health problems in tennis are not, however, a great novelty, in the universe of the cruelty of tennis, an extremely pressing situation. individual sport. “Mental health issues existed in my time, obviously, but we didn’t talk about those things, remember Billie Jean King. It has always existed. In 1970 you couldn’t talk about this kind of thing. The emotional part of someone is probably the most important part. Since the 1990s, the WTA has been working in this area, hiring specialists. »

The American has managed to form many friendships over the years, and today when asked what the best part of being BJK is, she replies: “Relationships have to do with the relationships created with people. »

Media relations: “It’s part of the job of a professional athlete”

Asked about the fact that the walls are getting thicker between the world of competitors and that of the media, especially in the name of this famous mental health, Billie Jean King has a very clear opinion: “Journalists are essential because they tell the stories. If they hadn’t done it in 1971 when we tried to start the women’s tour, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I am not at all a fan of the fact that the doors are closing between the players and the media. It is part of the job of a professional athlete to interact with the press. Look inside, it’s interesting, because journalists understand the human aspect better. We have a great WTA school for rookies (young apprentice champions who are not yet installed on the circuit, editor’s note). When people ask me what players should learn first, I answer the business of their sport. Sometimes I chat with a girl and ask her if she has heard from the organizer of the tournament. She told me: “Why? “You made some money this week, didn’t you?” “Yes” “And him, do you know if he made a profit or not?” Because he is the one who takes risks to promote your sport, did you thank him?…” We must thank all the people involved every week in all these tournaments, emphasizes “BJK”.

The 1972 Roland Garros winner continues: “More generally, I think we shouldn’t allow a youngster to start playing on tour until he has understood all the obligations that come with being a professional athlete. Journalists, you will meet almost every day. I know that today there are social networks and that doubles the time, but they must 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 are going to face. I tell them: everyone is trying to make a living like you playing tennis. It’s not just about them, it’s about all of us. »

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