The Moment That Made Billie Jean King the Most Successful Female Tennis Player in History

The Moment That Made Billie Jean King the Most Successful Female Tennis Player in History

Roger Federer brings down curtain on his career with a defeat, but still dazzles alongside longtime friend and rival Rafael Nadal. (1:01)

It began with a photo of two guys hanging out on the beach. One of them was Billie Jean King and one of them was Venus Williams. It ended with the tennis stars posing together for posterity on a beach in Rio de Janeiro.

They stood next to one another on a tiny white surfboard, holding hands, and gazing into the distance.

It was a photo that caught the world’s attention.

It was March, the month before tennis’ Olympic Games in Rio, and Venus Williams was posing with her former nemesis, Billie Jean King, at the beach of Rio’s iconic Ipanema neighborhood. On her left was Venus’ nemesis, Billie Jean King. On her right was Venus. They were holding hands, gazing into the distance.

“So why would I have any problems in that picture?” asked Venus, who was wearing a pair of gold tennis shoes that King had given her before her match at age 15.

“I don’t have any problems.”

It was the moment that would define King’s life and bring him to the peak of his career. It began that day in 1971 when King — born on Dec. 11, 1944 — was introduced to tennis by her hero, Billie Jean King.

“I fell in love with tennis the way a lot of kids fall in love with other sports,” King said.

A champion for more than a quarter-century, King came to symbolize the fight for equal pay for women in professional tennis. She would go on to change the way people look at women’s tennis, making her the most successful female tennis player in history.

But she had one battle on which she wasn’t prepared to die in peace.

After a series of court battles and legal settlements, including one that led to King suing the U.S. Tennis Association, she found herself still holding a

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