King proud Venus carries on fight for equal rights

AP Photo

PHILADELPHIA — Venus Williams was just a kid at a World TeamTennis clinic the first time she tried to impress Billie Jean King. Years before she hit No. 1 in the world, Williams tried to show off in front of her tennis idol.

“When it was my turn to hit, I was just like confident and strong,” Williams said, laughing. “Bam! I was like, `Yeah, she saw that.”‘

King, a six-time Wimbledon champion, was instantly struck by Williams’ power and bravado.

“It was adorable,” she said.

Williams once just wanted to play tennis and win tournaments, and she became one of the greats along the way. She soon pined to follow King in more ways than the record book. The 39-year-old Williams was inspired by King’s legacy of championing equal rights and equal pay for women in the sport. A day before playing in the 2005 Wimbledon final, Williams addressed a meeting of the Grand Slam Board, urging Wimbledon and the French Open to offer equal pay to male and female players. All four majors have eliminated the pay gap.

“Sometimes you start somewhere and you end somewhere else you hadn’t planned on,” Williams said.

King and Williams sat on a panel of women in sports Friday night that included representatives from the Philadelphia Flyers and Sacramento Kings. Williams was in Philadelphia to play for WTT franchise the Washington Kastles and packed a crowd of about 2,000 fans into Saint Joseph’s Hagan Fieldhouse.

She had an easy time in the breezy world of team tennis, winning her singles match 5-2 against Taylor Townsend of the Philadelphia Freedoms . In her last match that counted, Williams was upset at Wimbledon by 15-year-old Coco Gauff . Williams declined through representatives to answer questions about the loss, wanting instead to keep the focus on team tennis.

Little sister Serena Williams reached the Wimbledon final and lost in straight sets to Simona Halep. King had said she would like to see what Williams could do on the court if she were to put “everything else aside” and “focus on what’s necessary” for her tennis. While some reports sensationalized a spat between them, King said all was cool with Williams and they had texted after Wimbledon.

“She said, `Billie, I know (a reporter) misinterpreted you. I love you. I appreciate you,”‘ King said. “She’s always been great. She brings up my name all the time.”

King’s connection to Philadelphia stretches to her teenage years when she won the 1960 Philadelphia and District Grass Court Championships, and her WTT career in Philadelphia inspired the title to Elton John’s hit “Philadelphia Freedom.” King said she was 13 when she knew “she wanted to change things” in the world and is proud to see a star player in Venus help get women equal prize money in the majors. King just isn’t the type to recruit the next generation of stars – like a Gauff – to join in the fight for causes close to her heart.

“I’m shy in some ways, I am,” King said. “I don’t want to go up to them that much. I don’t want to get in their space. I don’t know them.”

Perhaps, but it’s impossible to imagine a girl that picks up a racket who doesn’t know about King.

“I have a job because of this woman,” Williams said.

The 75-year-old King looks at the Williams sisters as among those who can carry on the work she started decades ago.

“You never know how you’re going to touch another person’s life or how they’re going to touch yours,” King said.

Gael Monfils withdraws from French Open with wrist injury

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

PARIS — A thrilling five-set victory took a toll on Gael Monfils, whose withdrawal from the French Open handed No. 6 Holger Rune a walkover to the third round.

The 36-year-old Frenchman said he has a strained left wrist and can’t continue.

He battled Sebastian Baez for nearly four hours on Court Philippe Chatrier before beating the Argentine 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 in a first-round match that ended at 12:18 a.m. local time.

The victory was Monfils’ first at tour level this year, as the veteran was coming back from heel surgery.

“Actually, physically, I’m quite fine. But I had the problem with my wrist that I cannot solve,” he said. “The doctor say was not good to play with that type of injury. Yesterday was actually very risky, and then today definitely say I should stop.”

Monfils reached the semifinals at the French Open in 2008 and made it to the quarterfinals on three other occasions.

Mikael Ymer fined about $40K after default for hitting umpire stand with racket

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

PARIS — Swedish tennis player Mikael Ymer was docked about $40,000 after being disqualified for smashing his racket against the umpire’s chair at a tournament the week before he competed at the French Open.

An ATP Tour spokesman said Ymer forfeited about $10,500 in prize money and 20 rankings he earned for reaching the second round of the Lyon Open. Ymer also was handed an on-site fine of about $29,000.

The spokesman said the ATP Fines Committee will conduct a review of what happened to determine whether any additional penalties are warranted.

The 56th-ranked Ymer, who is 24 and owns a victory over current No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, was defaulted in Lyon for an outburst late in the first set against French teenager Arthur Fils last week.

Ymer was upset that the chair umpire would not check a ball mark after a shot by Fils landed near a line. As the players went to the sideline for the ensuing changeover, Ymer smacked the base of the umpire’s stand with his racket twice – destroying his equipment and damaging the chair.

That led to Ymer’s disqualification, making Fils the winner of the match.

After his 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 loss to 17th-seeded Lorenzo Musetti in the first round at Roland Garros, Ymer was asked whether he wanted to explain why he reacted the way he did in Lyon.

“With all due respect, I think it’s pretty clear from the video what caused it and why I reacted the way I reacted. Not justifying it at all, of course,” Ymer replied. “But for me to sit here and to explain? I think it’s pretty clear what led me to that place. I think that’s pretty clear in the video.”