By Ashley Babich
PHILADELPHIA, Penn. — Before the Philadelphia Freedom took on the Kansas City Explorers at their home base at Villanova University, the creator of World TeamTennis, Billie Jean King, sang the praises of the organization, the fans, and the dedicated players. King cited the success of World TeamTennis to “keeping the economics under control” and finding support from the people who surround her. “I’m very fortunate with the team of people I have working with us.”
Speaking about the importance of team tennis, King highlighted the need for children’s tennis to operate from a team framework.
“For over 50 years now, my mantra has been, when they sign up for tennis, put them on a team. Get rid of the word ‘lesson.’ Kids don’t like that word. They’ll learn lessons in life from it, but they don’t need that word. Here’s what most kids do today, they play lacrosse or baseball or football; it’s a team sport usually. They practice two times a week and have a game. And what do they say about tennis? ‘Oh, I have a tennis lesson once a week.’ If a child is putting in 8 hours a week on one sport and then an hour on tennis, which sport do you think they’re going to choose after a year or two? I want them to practice two or three times a week and then I want them to have a game or a match. So they look forward to it every week. I don’t care what the skill level is, it’s fun!”
The WTT match on Monday night promoted marquee players Mike and Bob Bryan playing for the Kansas City Explorers. When asked to discuss the Bryan Brothers’ dedication to WTT, especially during an Olympic year, King had many positive things to say.
“It means a lot to us. Our format is totally built for them because they’re so great in doubles, and doubles is 60% of our scoring effort. They’re fantastic. They play their butts off.”
King also celebrated the recent Wimbledon Mixed Doubles title won by Mike Bryan and Lisa Raymond: “Do I love it?! My little team tennis players? I love it.”
King ended the conference with a conversation about how special Elton John’s song “Philadelphia Freedom” is to her.
“We have the best signature song in all of sports, which no one ever writes about … He used to sit on the bench, when I played for the Philadelphia Freedoms, yelling, ‘c’mon!’ He was a maniac!”
King recalled that she was on her way to a concert with Elton John when he offered to write a song about her, and she candidly described her reaction: “I’m thinking, ‘are you kidding, yeah right, what are you smoking?’”
“He said, ‘let’s name it Philadelphia Freedom after the team,’ and I said, ‘Great! That would be a great gift to the people of Philadelphia.’”
King laughed as she described a favorite part of the song: “He told me the part [in the refrain] that goes, ‘Phi-la-delphia,’ that’s you getting ticked off at the umpires. And I said, ‘I love it!’”
The Philadelphia Freedoms went on to beat the Kansas City Explorers 20-16 in Monday night’s match, with strong playing from the other twins involved that evening, Kristyna and Karolina Pliskova, playing for the Philadelphia Freedom. “Tonight is twin night,” as King put it.
Before exiting the press room, King went over to Carmine, who was quietly stringing racquets for the team in the corner of the room, and thanked him for executing his crucial job for WTT King asked him to take a picture with her, and he happily obliged. She’s a dynamic one, that Billie Jean King.