Fed Cup changes name to honor tennis great Billie Jean King

Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports
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The Fed Cup is changing its name to honor tennis great Billie Jean King, the woman whose lifelong battle for equality and social justice laid the foundation for generations that followed.

The Billie Jean King Cup will become the first major global team competition to be named after a woman, the International Tennis Federation said Thursday.

“I’m still in shock,” the 76-year-old King said of the tribute. “It’s really a privilege, and it’s also a responsibility. It’s wild, it’s great, it’s wonderful.”

The rebranding follows earlier changes to bring prize money in line with the men’s Davis Cup and coincides with the 50th anniversary of King’s pioneering effort to launch a women’s pro tennis circuit.

“We feel it’s long overdue,” ITF president David Haggerty said. “All major team competitions, including Davis Cup, are named after men, and we think it’s really fitting that the women’s world cup of tennis would be named after someone as iconic as Billie Jean King, who changed the face of women’s sports.”

King and her peers, known as the “Original 9,” risked their careers to start the Virginia Slims tour. Their work led to the creation of the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973 as the organizing body for women’s professional tennis.

King’s early efforts led to the lucrative prize funds and multimillion-dollar endorsement deals enjoyed today by top players like Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.

“Today, the players are living our dream, and we’re thrilled for them,” King said in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the announcement. “Women’s tennis is the leader in women’s sports. We are also leaders in the fight for justice and equality.”

Osaka, who took stances against racial injustice en route to her U.S. Open victory, said the newly named tournament will “mean a lot more” now.

“For me, she’s truly an inspiration and she always texts me really nice messages,” the 22-year-old Osaka said. “It’s always very nice to see someone so respected just care so much about the game.”

King won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, including six at Wimbledon. But her most famous match came in 1973 when she beat 55-year-old Bobby Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in the “Battle of the Sexes.” The match, considered to be a milestone in the promotion of women’s equality, was watched on TV by millions around the world.

King’s association with the Fed Cup goes back to its founding, when she was a member of the U.S. team that won the inaugural tournament in 1963 at Queen’s Club in London.

Then 19 years old, she recalled prodding her teammates: “This is history being made. We have to win it, so we always know we were the first. Come on! They said, Oh god, not you again. We know what the deal is.”

King, as a player and coach, won the Fed Cup trophy 10 times – a record for an individual. She was appointed as the competition’s first global ambassador in 2019.

Sixteen nations competed the first time, whereas 116 entered for 2020. Twelve teams play in the Finals.

“The goal is to continue that outreach and Billie as an iconic figure, who is so well known, can help us do that,” Haggerty said.

The Davis Cup – named for Dwight Davis, who played in the inaugural tournament in 1900 – has more nations and 18 spots in its Finals.

“I’d like to get more countries,” King said. “We have 116, the guys have 142. The cultures are different in a lot of countries. We’re going to have a lot of work ahead of us to break things down.”

Last year, the ITF announced that the prize fund for the women’s tournament will increase to $12 million for players plus another $6 million for competing nations – bringing it on par with Davis Cup prize money.

The Billie Jean King Cup Finals are scheduled for April 13-18 in Budapest, Hungary. King said she “absolutely” will attend in April unless there are coronavirus roadblocks.

The 2020 Finals for both tournaments were scrapped this year because of the pandemic, although qualifying nations will maintain their places for the 2021 Finals.

King, the winner of 39 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, said she’s “so fortunate” to be honored by the ITF. She recalled the late tennis journalist Bud Collins proposing a Fed Cup name change years ago.

“He said it had a horrible name. I had heard then that they were talking about naming me, or Chris Evert, or maybe another player,” King said. “It never came to fruition through the years. I know how lucky I am and blessed. People have always championed me.”

During Thursday’s news conference, King said she was motivated to create change because no one likes to be discounted, whether it’s by gender, race or sexual orientation. King, a lesbian, said she hopes to see openly gay players in men’s professional tennis but they are reluctant because “other men give them such a bad time.”

“So we need to make it accepted and also celebrated when somebody is their authentic self,” she said. “We need to keep breaking down these barriers. I pray that someday the first male will speak up and come out and start change in the men’s side.”

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Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”