Billie Jean King knows all too well how hard the battle to grow the game of tennis is.

She was, after all, integral to the advancement of women’s tennis in the 1970s and will, she says, continue to fight to advance women’s tennis for as long as is humanly possible.

So it comes of little surprise that she harbours high hopes the Billie Jean King Cup, which begins in Glasgow on Tuesday, will have a significant impact on the development of tennis in Scotland.

“Hopefully we’ll inspire at least one child to want to play tennis. I don’t care at what level. If they want to be world No.1 or something then that’s a whole other discussion but I want people to really love it and I hope more people will play,” King, who is now 78, says. “Maybe this will inspire others to really get behind tennis and really make it big – bigger than it has ever been.

“Importantly, maybe some kid will see it and get excited. If you can see it, you can be it.”
Certainly, hosting an event of the scale of the Billie Jean King Cup is something never seen before in this country.

The female-only event features the top 12 countries in the world, split into four groups of three, with much of the star power coming from King’s own nation, USA, who boast world No.3, Jessica Pegula, and world No.4 and superstar in the making Coco Gauff in their line-up.

HeraldScotland: Billie Jean King in her pompBillie Jean King in her pomp (Image: Getty)

This will be King’s first visit to Scotland – despite having more than a touch of Scottish ancestry – with the eponymous event the flagship women’s team event in the tennis calendar.

That women’s tennis enjoys something close to equality at all is down, in large part, to King’s efforts 50 years ago when she was at the peak of her career which saw her win a total of 39 grand slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed. Next week’s season-ending event will be a celebration of a sport that has some of the most high-profile female athletes in the world and highlights the distance the sport has travelled from when she was a young girl in California picking up a racket for the first time.

“Back then, the one thing was they didn’t have professional tennis for women in those days. I knew it was an amateur sport,” she says.

“And then I thought: ‘You know what? If I’m going to be good enough and be No.1, maybe I can help push for equality.’

“I made myself a promise at age 12 that, if I got to the top, I would fight for inclusion and equality, even though I didn’t know all the words for what I wanted.

“I didn’t know that platform would be the right word for what tennis would give me – but I could visualise it. So I said to myself: ‘I have a chance to do something really special.’

“I promised myself I would never let up, I would always do this for as long as I was healthy enough. I still have my energy and I love it.

“There have been different fights along the way and, of course, the women’s fight was about whether we lost everything.

“So we formed our own association and we really fought hard. It’s been an uphill battle. But you know what? Why not? We’re lucky to be in sports, lucky to be in tennis.”

It remains somewhat baffling that Scotland, a country that has produced one of the best tennis players of all time in Andy Murray, has yet to crack how to grow the sport.

HeraldScotland: Judy Murray takes a coaching session in GlasgowJudy Murray takes a coaching session in Glasgow (Image: PR)

There is though, in King’s opinion, one person who has done more than any other to develop the game in this country; Judy Murray.

Murray, the mother, of course, of Andy and Jamie, will be omnipresent at the Billie Jean Cup next week and King will no doubt seek her out to catch up with someone who she calls one of her “sheroes” for all she’s done to promote tennis in Scotland and further afield.

“I want to thank Judy Murray for all she’s done for Scottish tennis, she’s amazing and is one of my sheroes,” King says. “Not only did she have two champions in Andy and Jamie Murray in 2016 when they were both world No.1 but what she does at grassroots level and what she does for communities and getting people to play – I think we should have a statue for her, I’ve been thinking about that for a long time. I don’t think she’s appreciated enough.

READ MORE: Murray hopes to pass baton to next great Scottish tennis ambassador

“She pushes and some people don’t like that but that’s what makes the world a better place.”

The GB team, captained by former player Anne Keothavong, will likely benefit from considerable home support but will be led by British No.2 singles player, Harriet Dart, in the absence of former US Open champion, Emma Raducanu, who was forced to withdraw last week due to a wrist injury.

Raducanu has had a tumultuous time of things since her victory in New York last September but King believes that, more than anything, the Englishwoman must be given time and space to mature both as a tennis player and a person, something she has been granted by few observers over the past year.

“First of all, you can’t pay attention to what anyone says about you. And don’t take anything personally,” is King’s first piece of advice for Raducanu.

HeraldScotland: Emma RaducanuEmma Raducanu (Image: Getty)

“But then you’ve got to find the right person to talk to. And that’s the hard part because everyone has an opinion.

“It’s important for her to find out what she wants in life. She needs to search her own soul.

“Our job is to give her time and space. Let Emma decide what is best for her, not have everyone else deciding for her. Glean the information that pertains to her.

“I hope everybody just backs up. It’s like she has no breathing room. Give her some time to breathe, some space. She’s really young. Give her time.”

King is determined to relish her week in Glasgow, which begins with Australia taking on Slovakia on day one before GB face Kazakhstan that afternoon.

READ MORE: Draper and Evans knocked out of Paris Masters in second round

This event is, she emphasises, the World Cup of tennis, with participation necessary for any players who want to compete at the Olympics in 2024.

Having won the event, formerly known as the Fed Cup, seven times as a player and four as captain of the USA, King would be forgiven for her excitement around it having dwindled somewhat over the years.

There is, however, none of that and as she prepares for her first trip to Scotland, she is as passionate as ever.

“To get to these finals has been a year-long effort and there’s so much pressure, but I love that. Pressure is a privilege and it brings out the best and the worst of all of us,” she says.

“Every generation gets better and now there’s so much depth in women’s tennis.
“And in Glasgow we have an amazing line-up.

“The important thing is we’re supposed to be there for the fans, not the other way around so I hope we can go out there and entertain them.”

Tickets for the Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge, taking place at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow between 8-13 November, are available to purchase now at: https://billiejeankingcup.lta.org.uk