The Fed Cup has suffered through the years, not only from a “lame name” but from repeatedly changing its format. It did so again this year, shifting to a 12-team finals in Budapest, which was ultimately canceled because of the coronavirus. The event was rescheduled for 2021.
Several women’s tennis players would have been worthy of having the cup named for them, including Chris Evert and her friendly archrival Martina Navratilova, who won it with both Czechoslovakia and the United States.
But King, who won the cup seven times as a player, has been a great player and great campaigner: spearheading the founding of the Women’s Tennis Association and World TeamTennis and pushing for equal rights and equal prize money.
She was also part of the United States team that won the inaugural Federation Cup in 1963.
“Who better to name a competition after than someone who’s really revolutionized women’s sport”” said David Haggerty, the I.T.F. president, in a telephone interview. “She was a champion on the court. She was a pioneer off the court.”
At 76, King still brims with energy and ideas, and she believes a woman’s name going on the cup should not be perceived as simply a positive move for women.
“When a woman does something, people always think we do it for women,” she said. “When a guy does something, they never say they did it for the guys. And so one of the changes I hope I can talk about more and more is that I would like people to think when you see a woman’s name, you don’t think they just did it for women or they’re only representing women. We are representing people, just like you would with the guys. You don’t go up to John McEnroe and say thanks for what you did for men’s tennis. You say thanks for what you did for tennis.”
She continued: “I want this Billie Jean King Cup to represent everyone, not just women. It really bothers me, and until we change that, you’re never going to have a woman president of the United States. It’s the way we think about women. We’ve got to stop it. Women are leaders for everyone. Men are leaders for everyone.”