Tying in with the 50th Anniversary of the Fed Cup, the women’s team competition has been re-named the Billie Jean King Cup by the ITF, it was announced at a virtual press conference on Thursday.
This rebrand represents a significant moment in our sport. The Davis Cup is named after a man, so it is absolutely right that the women’s world cup of tennis is named after a woman. Given all she has achieved in our sport and her tireless efforts to champion equality around the world, I can’t think of a more worthy recipient of this honour than Billie Jean King. Katrina Adams, ITF Vice President, Fed Cup Committee Chair and Chair of the ITF Gender Equality in Tennis Committee
It is the first time a major global team competition has been named after a woman, ushering in a new era for the historic tournament and representing a landmark moment for sport.
A champion on the court and a pioneer off it, Billie Jean King is a global campaigner for equality who has dedicated her life to fighting discrimination in all its forms.
The values she represents epitomise the ethos of a tournament that has evolved to become the largest annual international team competition in women’s sport, with 116 nations entered in 2020.
“It’s very exciting. I’m still not sure it’s true,” Billie Jean King said. “Then my mind always turns to what I want to accomplish – let’s get going. It’s really an honour and I’m very grateful.
“I remember the first Federation Cup in 1963. I love history and I remember saying, ‘We have to make it this year, we have to win the very first one, it’s historical’. And my team-mates were like, ‘OK, OK, already’.
“And we did win and it was really special. When I see the Fed Cup trophy today I look at the first one and I think about us. I remember how excited I was.”
King went on to win five more Fed Cup titles as a player, one as a player-captain and three as solely captain, making her the most successful individual in the competition’s history.
The rebranding follows the introduction of a new finals format that will bring the 12 best nations together over one week in Budapest to compete to become world champions.
From 2021, under its new name, the Billie Jean King Cup Finals will award the biggest annual prize fund in women’s team sports with $18million (£13.7million) to be paid out, which is equivalent to that of the Davis Cup.
King, who won 39 Grand Slam titles across singles and doubles, continues to dedicate herself to championing women and fighting for equality.
“From playing the first Fed Cup as a member of the victorious US team in 1963, founding the WTA and becoming its first President, to being the first female athlete awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, Billie Jean King has never stopped breaking new ground,” said ITF President David Haggerty. “Today she adds another ‘first’ to that list.
“The new name is a fitting tribute to everything she has achieved and will provide a lasting legacy that will inspire future generations of players and fans.”
King’s history with the Fed Cup was recognised when she was presented with the Fed Cup Award of Excellence in recognition of her achievements in 2010, before being appointed as the competition’s first Global Ambassador in 2019.
“There is nothing quite like the feeling of representing your country and being part of a team, which is why this competition is so special and important to me,” King said. “It is an honour to have the women’s world cup of tennis carry my name and a responsibility I will not take lightly.
“Our job is to share this vision with future generations of young girls, because if you can see it, you can be it.”
The name change provides opportunity for increased global exposure and investment in women’s tennis.
As a historical tennis partner, BNP Paribas has supported women’s tennis since 2006 through the ITF’s flagship women’s global team competition, the women’s world cup of tennis.
The ITF has partnered with Microsoft, as Global Technology and Innovation Partner, and Magellan Corporation.
Microsoft’s collaboration embraces King’s legacy of advancing the sport of tennis for all by bringing real-time data insights to the court at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals, while Illinois-based global steel distributor Magellan Corporation has a strong track record supporting major sports properties and women-forward initiatives.
ITF Vice President, Fed Cup Committee Chair and Chair of the ITF Gender Equality in Tennis Committee Katrina Adams said: “This rebrand represents a significant moment in our sport.
“The Davis Cup is named after a man, so it is absolutely right that the women’s world cup of tennis is named after a woman.
“Given all she has achieved in our sport and her tireless efforts to champion equality around the world, I can’t think of a more worthy recipient of this honour than Billie Jean King.”
The announcement of the name change comes in the week before the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Virginia Slims Circuit, which saw 9 women, including King, risk everything to take a stand for equal rights in tennis.
Known as the ‘Original 9’, these players took a leap of faith that led to the formation of the WTA and ultimately paved the way for tennis to become a leading light in the fight for equality in sport and society.
King continues to be a trailblazer and has long pushed for a merger of the ATP and WTA, something Roger Federer tweeted his approval for in April.
When the Professional Tennis Players Association, jointly led by Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil, was launched during the US Open as a break-away from the the ATP in a move, it has caused controversy and division.
Women have not been included so far, although Djokovic has said discussions are taking place.
King, however, warns: “I wanted that in the 60s, for us to be together.
“Roger thought about it. And I talked to him that day and I said, ‘I wish you would do it because people listen to the top male players, they’ll listen to you of all the players’.
“What you have to do to make these things happen is go behind the scenes very quietly and work very, very hard before you do things.
“I don’t know if Djokovic has really thought it through because it’s a lot harder than it looks from the outside.”