Billie Jean King is an undisputed legend of women’s tennis. The American is not only a champion on court but off it too; her championing of LGBTQ rights and the demands made for equal pay make her an icon beyond the sport too. It’s also worth remembering that she won a career Grand Slam and dominated the sport during the 1960s and 70s. Yet she very nearly went her whole career without completing the Grand Slam. Like Roger Federer well after her, she too struggled to win the big one on clay. That is, of course, until 1972 when she accomplished the feat.
Here, we take a look back at how on this day exactly 49 years ago, King won her one and only French Open title.
Before the 1972 French Open, King had won 6 Grand Slam titles. This consisted of three Wimbledon titles, two US Open titles and the lone Australia Open.
However, the King of 1972 had not tasted much success in the past few years. Before the French Open final, she had made the finals of five other Grand Slams in the last four-odd years – and won just one of them, the 1971 US Open.
Yet that sparked a mini-revival for her. She didn’t win the Australian Open in 1972 but came into the tournament riding on the back of positive momentum.
More importantly, she had the experience of playing in big games – an intangible, sure, but an important factor in the success of any athlete.
The 1972 edition of the tournament was a mixed one, to say the least. The French Tennis Federation halved the draw, meaning it consisted of 32 rather than 64 players.
This was done to attract top players to play in the Grand Slam. However, it was a one-time thing as the results from the decision were mixed. The following year saw a reversion to the original format.
King was in fine form over the tournament as she didn’t drop a single set throughout. She even won the final in straight sets, beating Evonne Goolagong 6-3, 6-3 to clinch the title.
Amazingly, King went on to win both Wimbledon and the US Open after this. If she had won the Australian Open, she would have done the Grand Slam in a single calendar year as well.