King proud of Swiatek, Gauff for 'stepping up'

Grand Slam great hails women's singles finalists and their fight for change

Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, finale, Roland-Garros 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Billie Jean King’s fight to affect change is as undiminished at 78 as at any stage during the height of her playing days.

While the 12-time Grand Slam singles champion and former world No.1 remains an active influence on the WTA tour she pushed so tirelessly to establish, it is her off-court advocacy from which she draws greater pride these days.

King received the Legion d’Honneur from French President Emmanuel Macron at Élysée Palace on Friday in honour of her fight for women's sport, gender equality and the rights of LGBTQ people in sport.

On the 50th anniversary of her sole Roland-Garros triumph, King has been bestowed another honour.

In a nod to her trailblazing fight for gender equality, she will become the first woman to present the Coupe des Mousquetaires to the men’s champion on Sunday.

While grateful for the platform she has gained as a Grand Slam-winning great, one thing stands tall about being Billie Jean King.

“Everything is relationships,” she said. “I got to see (former rival) Françoise Durr this year, I got to see people I really care about and love. That's everything.

“It's really about the relationships, not how many titles you have won.”

Billie Jean King, Emmanuel Macron, Roland-Garros 2022© Fred Mullane/FFT

King was front and centre for the women’s singles decider on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Saturday and could not have been prouder of the two finalists, Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff.

“I think they are amazing. I think they are fantastic. I think they both have different personalities, different games, which I always think is good,” King said.

“Iga, you know, when I saw her win here (in 2020), I wondered how she's going to hold up. She held up amazing. What's she up to, 35 straight matches or something?

“What makes her interesting is her forehand is so different from her backhand and her serve is getting better. She's actually quite quick.

"I wasn't sure about her, how fast she was, but she is pretty quick. That's what you want in a champion. She really wants it.

“But so does Coco Gauff. That's what you want. You feel they are in it, they want to be the best. They are not going to be satisfied with less.”

King has never understood why many sought to separate sport from politics.

Both women’s finalists have used their respective platforms extensively to advocate for change – Swiatek as a vocal supporter of ending the conflict in Ukraine and Gauff in aid of Black Lives Matter and gun law reform in the US.

“Do I like that? Of course I like that,” King said. “I always want every generation, both men and women, to step up, because sports is politics. Politics is sport. So anybody who doesn't think so, I don't agree with them... Everything is your audience when you go out to play.”

Billie Jean King, Roland-Garros 2022, women's final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT