40 LOVE Moments: Queen Of The Ages
Published June 13, 2013 12:00
BIRMINGHAM, England - Birmingham has a special place in Billie Jean King's heart, and Billie Jean King has a special place in Birmingham's heart. So it's the perfect time to take a look back and see how the WTA legend's presence still runs strong at one of the longest-running tournaments on the WTA.
The Aegon Classic is hosted less than a mile from the Birmingham city center at the Edgbaston Priory Club, a 12-acre private members facility that includes 29 tennis courts and 10 squash courts. It is one of the country's largest and most popular racquet and leisure clubs. On top of that, the origins of the modern game of lawn tennis are believed to have started in Edgbaston as early as 1859.
The tournament was first held in 1982, and it was none other than King who was its first champion. Seeded No.4 behind Tracy Austin, Sylvia Hanika and Barbara Potter, thanks to a string of early upsets King didn't even have to play any of them all week and battled her way to the title, getting pushed to three sets by Lele Forood in her opening match and Betsy Nagelsen in the semifinals but putting on a dazzling display of grass court tennis in the final, crushing Rosalyn Fairbank in straights, 62 61.
King's victory at the Aegon Classic a year later in 1983 may have been even more meaningful, though. It wasn't as difficult - she was the top seed and didn't lose a set all week, including taking Alycia Moulton down in the final, 60 75 - but it was also the last of her 67 WTA titles in the Open Era.
That triumph also gave King a very, very impressive honor - at 39 years, 7 months and 23 days, King was the oldest player ever to win a WTA title, a record that actually still stands to this day.
In 2010 the record came under threat, big time, as a 40-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm reached the final of Osaka and went to a third set with Tamarine Tanasugarn - but the Thai eventually won that in three. Date-Krumm is still the second-oldest player to win a WTA title though, triumphing at Seoul in 2009 at 38 years, 11 months and 30 days. And the Japanese is still going strong at age 42 - can she do it?
King would play her last Grand Slam just a few weeks later at Wimbledon, making it all the way to the semifinals before falling to Andrea Jaeger. She would retire from singles competition by the end of 1983 - she played doubles for years before completely retiring from professional competition in 1990.