Billie Jean King and Lindsay Davenport Raw and Uncut
I saw the hotel we agreed to meet at on the right so I pulled in and parked. I then entered the lobby and made my way to the room as circumspect as possible. She wasn’t there yet. I was nervous and had a severe case of cottonmouth; this was my first time doing anything like that. I heard her familiar voice and turned around and, suddenly, there she was standing before me—as if she was beamed down from space—fully prepared for our encounter.
She knew this was my first time and told me that everything was going to be fine and that we would do it twice if necessary to get it right. I told her that my wife would have loved to join us and she said that perhaps that could be arranged in the future. The time for small talk was over. We both sat down at the table, I turned on the mike and began my first of two back-to-back interviews.
My first interview was with the most important athlete in the history of sports, Billie Jean King (vying for 2nd place are Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell). My second interview was with Lindsay Davenport, 6-time Grand Slam champion, 3-time World Team Tennis (WTT) champion, 2-time WTT MVP and future first ballot tennis hall of famer. The interviews took place on May 22, 2012 at the Ayres Hotel in Costa Mesa, CA where the former champions were holding court to promote the WTT season, which runs July 9-28, and concludes with the Finals weekend, September 14-16.
BJK co-founded WTT back in 1974 with her former husband Larry King and is now the current owner. But today she’s wearing the hat of promoter, though evangelical preacher may be a more apt description for BJK is a true believer in what she’s selling. Having been to a WTT event and listened to tennis’ grand matriarch talk about it with such passion and conviction, I can report that I’m a true believer too.
It can be argued that modern day tennis, as a business, began with the Big Bang that was the “Battle of the Sexes”—her famous match against Bobby Riggs in 1973, which was viewed by 90 million people worldwide (50 million in the US). It’s ironic because BJK loathes the idea of a “battle” between the sexes. Hence, her passion for WTT where women and men are on the same team and work for a shared goal.
WTT is a coed sport built for the future. The format is pretty simple and straightforward: there are five sets played consisting of men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles. The first team to reach five games wins the set. A nine-point tiebreaker is played if a set reaches four games all. One point is awarded for each game won and the scoring is cumulative so each and every game toward your team’s total point count. There is no-ad scoring, let serves are played, and the complete match occurs in less then three hours.
WTT is a family-friendly organization that involves itself in the communities in which it plays. Because of the varied matchups offered in one evening, the fast paced format, constant innovations (like introducing tennis’s first instant replay in 2005) and the fan-friendly atmosphere where music is played in between games and every kid age 16 and under gets a post-match autograph, WTT offers the best entertainment value in tennis for your dollar by a country mile.
WTT currently has seven current and former No. 1s from the U.S., including Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Bob and Mike Bryan, Andre Agassi, Lindsay Davenport and John McEnroe, are among the names playing for the eight franchises in the WTT Pro League. Other top Americans include Mardy Fish, John Isner and Sam Querrey. That’s an impressive list considering the WTT’s auspicious start almost four decades ago.
In its inaugural year, 1974, the wonderful folks at the International Tennis Federation (ITF) banned Jimmy Connors–the greatest and most important male player in the sport’s history–from playing the French Open that year. These “gentlemen” had two reasons for the ban. First, it robbed the brash outsider, Connors, of a calendar Grand Slam (Note: Connors won the other three slams he was allowed to play and he owned Bjorn Borg, that year’s winner, on clay from 1974-1976, besting him in the 1974 finals of the U.S. Clay Court Championships, in the 1975 U.S. Open semi-finals and in the 1976 finals of the U.S. Open). Second, it was a strong-arm attempt to snuff out WTT in its infancy by preventing its top participants from playing the slams.
The effort slowed down but did not snuff out WTT. In addition to the current roster, champions who went on to play WTT include: Billie Jean King, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Kim Clijsters, Steffi Graf, Bob and Mike Bryan, Venus and Serena Williams, Martina Hingis and Maria Sharapova.
WTT can be a great beginning for young players like a teenaged Davenport—who looks like she could steal another slam this year—when she was just starting out or it can be a new beginning for older veterans like it was for Connors in 1991, preparing him for his great run to the semi-finals at the U.S. Open that year at age 39. Davenport is now 35 years old and playing for the Orange County Breakers. There is no guarantee that we’ll see Davenport play at the U.S. Open this year but you can see her play in WTT by purchasing tickets here.
There are a lot of other reasons to get tickets for WTT, but I’ll let Billie and Lindsay do the selling. The following two “videos” are actually CD-quality audio recordings of the back-to-back interviews they gave on May 22, 2012. They are raw, uncut and cover a number of topics ranging from childhood obesity to who Lindsay thinks is the cutest player on the Breakers. Have a listen and enjoy!
Transcripts of the interviews will be coming soon. A super hi-def Blue-Ray-quality audio version is available for filmmakers.