Fifty years on from lifting the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, tennis royalty Billie Jean King was on Friday named Australian Open Woman of the Year.
At the launch of Tennis Australia’s #Open4all inclusion initiative, King quipped, “Don’t remind me,” referring to the date of her Melbourne triumph back in 1968.
“It’s so great to be back here after eight years,” continued the 12-time Grand Slam singles winner, recalling practicing in her youth with the likes of Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall. “I first came here in 1964 and I’m indebted to the people here, you’re so welcoming and I always say that Australia made me No.1.”
King’s accolade was unveiled by Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley at the announcement of #Open4All, a wide-ranging equality, diversity and inclusion initiative that will be brought to life throughout the tournament.
“I’m excited to return to the Australian Open and to be part of this year’s tournament and the #Open4All events. This is a strong and important theme for the first Grand Slam of the year, and while we have made significant progress over the years in our sport and in society, we still have a great deal of work to do,” she said.
“Tennis is a team sport, an individual sport and with all genders participating. Not all sports can say that.
“I will share this honour with the members of the Original Nine, who stood together for the birth of women’s professional tennis, and with every woman and man who has worked so hard for equality in our sport and in our society.
“I want to thank Craig Tiley and everyone at the Australian Open for welcoming me back and congratulate them on their commitment to equality.”
In the 200th Grand Slam of the Open era, King wouldn’t quite put her neck on the line with a prediction for the titles. However, the former world No.1 did single out praise for a particular in-form Australian prodigy.
“Alex De Minaur is so much fun. His game is great and he’s just adorable. He’s just like a young Lleyton Hewitt,” she said.
Tiley announced that #Open4All would include a series of special events, designed to celebrate the intrinsic fairness and equality of the sport of tennis which welcomes everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality or ability.
“Tennis Australia, along with the rest of the tennis family, proudly live the values of equality, inclusion and diversity,” said Tiley, who revealed King will present the women’s champion with their trophy.
“If you can pick up a racquet, it does not matter your race, gender, ability, age or sexual orientation, you are welcome. We believe sport can be a very powerful vehicle for social change, both here in Australia and around the world, and I hope the theme of #Open4All at Australian Open 2018 will help to promote the values of our organisation and our sport.
“As a community, we have come a long way, but we also understand that this is an ongoing journey. We are not there yet, but there are encouraging signs of progress.”
Tiley described King as a “trailblazer” in the fight for diversity and inclusivity in sport.
“I’m delighted to welcome Billie Jean King back to the Australian Open. She will be a big part of our #Open4All celebrations,” Tiley said.
“Her tireless work for equality transcends her reputation as a sporting legend, I don’t know any other person who could do that. The leadership she has shown throughout her life is an inspiration to us all.”