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 7:08 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Rafael Nadal of Spain watches the ball in his match against Martin Klizan of Slovakia during during day seven of the China Open at the National Tennis Center on October 3, 2014 in Beijing, China.
Rafael Nadal's body might be giving him a few problems, but his mind remains as strong as ever. Will the Spaniard add to his haul of 14 grand slam titles?
updated 8:42 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
A year that began in uncertainty for Roger Federer ended with a historic title for the 17-time grand slam champion and his country.
updated 12:16 PM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
The Scot has served up a few changes to his support team in 2014 but there's one person who isn't going anywhere -- his new fiancée Kim Sears.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
French Tennis player Rene Lacoste, one of France's 'Four Musketeers' who won the Davis Cup in 1932, at Wimbledon. He is wearing his embroidered crocodile motif. Original Publication: People Disc - HH0434 (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
His distinctive crocodile logo is seen on clothing all over the world, but Rene Lacoste also left a lasting legacy in the development of tennis.
updated 2:36 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Marin Cilic follows in the footsteps of his coach Goran Ivanicevic by claiming a grand slam crown for Croatia, winning the U.S. Open.
updated 9:34 AM EDT, Sun September 14, 2014
Serena Williams of the US holds the US Open trophy after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during their US Open 2014 women's singles finals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center September 7, 2014 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Serena Williams is without peer in the modern women's game and now she is on a par with two American tennis legends from the past.
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
American tennis player and golfer Althea Gibson (right) receives a kiss from compatriot Darlene Hard, whom she beat in two sets to become the first black woman to win the Women's Singles Finals at Wimbledon.
Over the course of her remarkable life, Althea Gibson was many things to many people -- but it was tennis where she really left her mark.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Canada and tennis? Really? Yup. The North American tennis power balance is swinging away from the States.
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.
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 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.