Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Serena Williams leads tributes to WTA founder Billie Jean King

By Paul Gittings, CNN
updated 4:26 PM EDT, Sun June 30, 2013
WTA founder Billie Jean King is flanked by Maria Sharapova and Billie Jean King at a special gathering of former No.1s to mark the 40th anniversary.
WTA founder Billie Jean King is flanked by Maria Sharapova and Billie Jean King at a special gathering of former No.1s to mark the 40th anniversary.
  • Unique gathering of former women's No.1 tennis players at Wimbledon
  • Event to mark the 40th aniversary of WTA Tour foundation in 1973
  • Tributes paid to first WTA president Billie Jean King
  • Current No.1 Serena Williams took center stage

(CNN) -- It was the ultimate gathering of tennis talent.

A host of No.1 ranked women's players, including Serena Williams, marked the 40th anniversary of the WTA with a unique get together at Wimbledon Sunday.

Williams, the latest in an elite list of women to reach the summit of the game since a unified women's tour was founded in 1973, led the tributes to Billie Jean King, the driving force and first president of the association.

"Billie Jean has been my ultimate inspiration and taught me so many things about being a champion and staying a champion," she told CNN.

Billie Jean King fights for equality
Tennis legend fights for equal rights
Williams wins 2nd French Open title

"We are celebrating 40 amazing years of the WTA and none of this would have been possible if she hadn't taken a stand for everyone."

King, who won 12 grand slam singles titles, organized the meeting at the Gloucester Hotel in London, just a week before the 1973 Wimbledon Championships, where the Women's Tennis Association formally came into being.

One voice

"We were working together to gain recognition for the future generation and to have one voice," she told CNN.

Read: Sharapova makes shock exit from Wimbledon

"Sixty three of us got in a room, we locked the door, we elected the officers and we were in business," she recalled.

King's great rivals at the time, Australian pair Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong, were among the special invitees to the anniversary celebration, along with current stars such as Williams and her arch-rival Maria Sharapova.

To the left of Williams were Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, who between them occupied the No.1 spot for 592 weeks.

Swiss miss Martina Hingis, fourth in the all-time list for week's in the top spot and Monica Seles, also sat side by side.

Serena Williams' rise to greatness
Is Serena Williams the greatest ever?
Williams sisters show off dancing skills

Old rivalries

Seles, who battled it out for top spot with the likes of Hingis, and U.S. pair Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport, enjoyed being reunited with them, with old rivalries long forgotten.

"It's a celebration where once we are retired we can relax, we don't have competitive pressures and we can be friends," she told CNN.

Read: Serena puts troubles aside for easy win

Germany's Steffi Graf, who tops the list, was a notable absentee, as was Belgian favorite Kim Clijsters as she is expecting her second child soon.

In recent years, a clutch of players such as Dinara Safina, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka, have all briefly topped the rankings before Williams has reasserted her dominance in the game by winning three of the last four grand slams.

Her 6-2 6-0 dismissal of Kimiko Date-Krumm Saturday took her into the last 16 as she bids to defend her Wimbledon crown.

Confident coach

Her coach and partner Patrick Mouratoglou told CNN that Williams was well prepared for her tilt at a 17th grand slam crown.

"She is in good form and for the past year has been working really really hard," he said.

"She has big goals and has done all the work necessary to be in a position to win a grand slam."

Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard, who upset Serbia's Ivanovic in the second round, represented the younger generation at the celebration along with American Madison Keys.

She fully appreciates the part played by King and other former players in helping bring riches and media attention to the women's game.

"I've learned all about it, it's a special event," she told CNN.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
As a player he was as fiery as his hair -- and as Novak Djokovic's coach, Boris Becker says he has to battle to keep his emotions in check.
updated 7:02 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Tennis great Boris Becker says he was stunned by the level of criticism he received after being appointed as Novak Djokovic's coach.
updated 7:01 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
"I didn't cry once when I practiced in front of the mirror," says Martin Emmrich. But the nerves kicked in when he got down on one knee on court.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
When Agnieszka Radwanska refused to look her opponent in the eye after losing at Wimbledon, it raised more than eyebrows.
updated 9:14 PM EDT, Sun June 22, 2014
It's 10 years since a teenage Maria Sharapova became the darling of Wimbledon's hallowed Center Court, launching herself as a star.
Rafael Nadal is still the "King of Clay" -- but his crown has slipped a bit, says CNN's Will Edmonds.
updated 3:46 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
He's regularly voted France's favorite famous person, but many of the nation's youth have "no idea" about his glorious sporting past
updated 7:59 PM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
British tennis player Elena Baltacha won 11 ITF Pro Circuit titles during her 16-year playing career.
The Ukrainian-born, British tennis star loses fight against liver cancer, just a few weeks after revealing that she was battling the disease.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Tue April 29, 2014
Five-time grand slam champion Martina Hingis has followed her mom into a coaching role, setting up a new tennis academy in Barcelona, Spain.
updated 8:38 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Suisse's Belinda Bencic returns the ball to France's Alize Cornet during the second match of the Fed Cup first round tennis tie France vs Switzerland on February 8, 2014 at the Pierre de Coubertin stadium in Paris. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
It's no easy matter becoming a world class tennis player. It's even harder when everyone (really -- everyone) is calling you the "new Martina Hingis."
updated 10:20 AM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
At the 2009 Australian Open, French men's tennis was the talk of the town.
updated 2:00 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - APRIL 14: Rafael Nadal of Spain sails a boat during day two of the ATP Monte Carlo Rolex Masters Tennis at Monte-Carlo Sporting Club on April 14, 2014 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal may be most at home on a clay tennis court, but he has always found comfort on the sea.