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Venus, Serena Williams join Billie Jean King equal pay push

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A day before playing in the 2005 final at the All England Club, Venus Williams addressed a meeting of the Grand Slam Board, urging Wimbledon and the French Open to offer equal pay to male and female players.

“I said: `All of our hearts beat the same. When your eyes are closed, you really can’t tell, next to you, who’s a man and who’s a woman.’ And (I asked them) to think about their daughters and their wives and sisters. How would they like them to be treated?” Williams recalled. “Sometimes, we lose track of, and don’t even realize, our own bias and our own prejudice. And we have to confront ourselves.”

The following afternoon, she won one of her seven major singles championships. About 1+ years later, Wimbledon announced it would, indeed, offer the same prize money to men and women in all rounds of the tournament, and the French Open soon followed suit, eliminating the pay gap at the four majors.

Now, Williams and her sister, Serena, are adding their names and voices to the push for equal pay across all types of jobs that the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative (BJKLI) is championing.

The two current tennis stars are joining the advisory board of the group founded by the former player, and Tuesday’s announcement was timed to coincide with Equal Pay Day, which approximates how far into a new year a woman must work to earn what a man made by the previous Dec. 31.

“Venus, in particular, helped us get equal prize money in the majors. She was amazing. She really got Wimbledon to make the big step,” King said in a telephone interview. “Venus has always had the courage to step up. And Serena’s the same way. They step up. I mean, Serena is not afraid to say whatever is on her mind.”

Added King: “They’ve been through a lot themselves, so they totally understand what’s going on. The two of them have transcended sports. The BJKLI is not about sports. It’s about every industry. To try to get equal pay for equal work, and that means across the board, from CEOs down to entry level.”

Her group was formed in 2014, and other advisory board members include 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick, former NBA player Jason Collins, singer Elton John and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

It was a pretty easy sell for King to add the Williams siblings, owners of a combined 30 Grand Slam singles titles, along with another 14 they’ve won together in doubles.

“We always put our hands up for Billie. We love her. She has a tremendous history, not just in women’s tennis, but in leading rights for people, in general, no matter who they were,” Venus Williams said. “Billie could be at the point in her life now where she could say, `Hey, I’m going to sit back and enjoy my life.’ But she’s still working hard for others. And that’s a prime example for every single person. Your work on this earth never ends, as long as there is inequality.”

King, for her part, looks at the Williams sisters as among those who can carry on the work she started decades ago.

“I am in my 70s, so I am looking to younger people to take up the mill as I phase out over time,” King said. “I’ve got energy right now, so we’re teeing everything up so we’re in great shape for the legacy of the BJKLI, because I want it to have a life after I’m out of here.”

 

Keys sends U.S. into second straight Fed Cup final

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AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France — Defending champion United States will play in a second consecutive Fed Cup final after defeating France on Sunday.

Madison Keys secured the decisive point for the visiting team by beating Pauline Parmentier 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the second reverse singles. Keys’ victory gave the defending champions an unassailable 3-1 lead over France in their semifinal.

The 13th-ranked Keys, a late replacement for CoCo Vandeweghe, came back from a 4-1 deficit in the first set and made the decisive break in the ninth game of the second set with two consecutive winners.

“The girls did so well, both today and yesterday. We are very fortunate to have such a strong group and now we are looking forward to what is going to be a great final,” U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said.

Parmentier fought hard until the end and saved two set points in the opener, but ultimately surrendered to Keys’ deep groundstrokes. The Frenchwoman had the chance to break back while trailing 5-4 in the second set but Keys used her big serve to win the next three points and seal the match.

The U.S. will play the Czech Republic in the final.

Earlier, Sloane Stephens had given a 2-1 lead to the U.S. with a 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of Kristina Mladenovic.

The U.S. Open champion delivered a ruthless display against the 20th-ranked Mladenovic and prevailed in 54 minutes. Stephens hit 16 winners and converted five of six break chances at the 6,700-capacity Arena Pays d’Aix on indoor clay.

“That was a really good one. You never anticipate a scoreline like the way it turned out but it was really solid,” Stephens said. She also won her first singles match on Saturday.

The Americans extended their winning record to 12-2 against the French.

The Czech Republic qualified for the final by defeating Germany 4-1 in Stuttgart.

Nadal beats Nishikori to win Monte Carlo Masters

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MONACO — Rafael Nadal won a record 31st Masters title after beating Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2 in the Monte Carlo Masters final on Sunday.

Nadal also became the first man in the Open era to win the same title 11 times – 13 years after his first title here – and moved one ahead of rival Novak Djokovic for career Masters titles.

“It’s great to have this trophy in my hands again,” Nadal said.

It gave him a 76th title overall and ensured the Spaniard keeps his top ranking ahead of Roger Federer.

Nishikori was chasing a first Masters title, but the Japanese player took 11 minutes to hold for 1-1.

He got some brief hope, breaking Nadal with a superb passing shot at full stretch to lead 2-1, but meekly surrendered the next four games.

“I knew it was going to be tough even though I was up break,” said Nishikori, who complained of tiredness. “My legs were very heavy today, playing three sets (for) three days in a row (before the final). It wasn’t easy physically.”

The second set was a procession and Nadal won on his first match point with a stinging backhand winner.

Nadal’s celebration was brief and low key. He thrust both hands into the air, and then jogged over to offer Nishikori a sympathetic hug after beating him for the 10th time in 12 meetings.

Nishikori saved a set point with a sharp, angled volley at the net. But Nadal was in relentless mood and sealed it on his next chance with a crisp forehand winner.

“It’s not easy to describe when you are coming back from injury and you start the clay-court season in this way,” Nadal said.

Nishikori is still working his way back to form and full fitness, after missing the 2017 U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open because of a torn tendon in his right wrist.

“It was a great week for me, I had an injury and couldn’t play for a long time,” said Nishikori, whose ranking has slipped to 36.

Nadal has not dropped a set in seven matches since coming back from a recurrence of a right hip injury that forced him to abandon during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

The injury relapse subsequently forced him out of the Mexico Open and Masters tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami, but Nadal now looks back to his ruthless best on clay.

He has his sights firmly set on an 11th title at Barcelona next week and then an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.