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Billie Jean King’s Trailblazing Legacy On and Off the Tennis Court

Tennis icon Billie Jean King has won US Open championship titles across three decades.

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For the past 129 years, hundreds of thousands of people gather in August and September to watch one of the most celebrated and anticipated events in tennis: the US Open. Since 1978, the US Open—known more formally as the U.S. National Championships—has been held in Flushing, NY, but over the years has seen nine different locations from Rhode Island to Pennsylvania.

Just as the location of the Championships has changed, the event itself has evolved over the years. The two week tournament began as a mens-only competition in the late 1800s before the first women’s event, singles, was added in 1887. And since then, women athletes have made their mark on the game, both on and off the court.

With her iconic eyeglasses and athletic prowess, Billie Jean King has become one of the most iconic athletes to compete at the US Open. She debuted at only 15 years old in 1959. Over the course of her 25 year career, King won U.S. Open titles during three decades, with her first for the 1964 Women’s Doubles with Karen Hantze Susman, and her last in the 1980 Women’s Doubles with Martina Navratilova.

Not only was she a champion on the US Open courts, King also championed an important cause for women athletes on tennis courts everywhere, and is widely credited for bringing women’s equality to the sport. On September 20, 1973, King went up against Bobby Riggs in The Battle of the Sexes—and won. Not only did she silence her critics, she also convinced skeptics everywhere that female athletes can stand up to nerves and pressure—and triumph.

This is the first post in a series of three exploring the women’s game evolution at the US Open, using analytics from IBM. To learn more about how IBM is using analytics at the US Open, visit here.

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