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WTT poised for growth, says BJK

Looking ahead to the launch of the 40th season of World TeamTennis (WTT) on July 12, Billie Jean King reflects with pride on the numerous accomplishments by the league she co-founded in 1974.

Showcasing established stars and legends along with promising newcomers, WTT is one of only five professional team sports leagues (along with the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB) in the U.S. to celebrate four decades. Multi-year sponsorship deals have been inked with title sponsor Mylan as well as GEICO, Adecco, Wilson and others.

In addition to securing financial stability, the league has a new generation of leaders in minority owners and ambassadors Andy Roddick and Venus Williams, who drew comparisons to King when her longtime cries for equal prize money for women were finally heeded by the All England Club in 2007.

In fact, Williams and the Washington Kastles, one of seven franchise teams, achieved the longest winning streak in U.S. professional sports history with 34 wins in 2013, one more than the 33 victories by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. This season, the team is going for a fifth straight King Trophy over the Austin Aces, Boston Lobsters, California Dream, Philadelphia Freedoms, San Diego Aviators, and Springfield Lasers.

“Looking back, I’ve been a co-founder, owner, player, coach - you name it, I’ve been part of it, and it has all been really fun,” says King, winner of 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles during her 24-year career. “I’m very excited that the league is continuing to move in the right direction.”

In fact, many of the fan-friendly aspects of WTT that were originally considered quirky have been proven instead as visionary. Its multicolored courts, for instance, paved the way for the purple surfaces at the BNP Paribas Open and the trademark blue courts of the US Open Series.

Apart from the Grand Slam tournaments, on-court coaching was adopted by the WTA Tour in 2008. Instant replay and music during changeovers are now enjoyed by fans worldwide, and the Intercollegiate Tennis Association implemented no-ad scoring for the Division 1 dual meet season in 2014.

Related to King’s legacy of equality, the co-ed nature and innovative team format of WTT employs a cumulative scoring system in which every game among five single-set matches (men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles) counts the same.

“What I want, what I have always wanted, is inclusion,” says King, who became the first woman to coach a co-ed team in professional sports with the Philadelphia Freedoms in 1974. “For me, it’s huge that every player on the court is equally vital. Every one of them is a star.”

According to King, WTT is poised for its next phase of growth by exploring opportunities for expansion within the U.S. and internationally, while sharing the USTA’s and tennis industry’s goal of developing the next generation of American players. Individual franchise teams work with sponsors to provide disadvantaged youth with tickets, racquets and clinics, and all fans 16 and under are invited on court after every match for autographs from all the players.

“You don’t know how something you do might touch a youngster’s life, so you have to keep trying all different ways,” she says, recalling how a 10-year-old Venus Williams participated in a WTT clinic in King’s hometown of Long Beach, Calif. “We want kids to dream about playing for their hometown WTT team someday. That’s the way it works. You got to see it to be it.”

The 2015 WTT regular season runs from July 12-29, featuring marquis players including Serena and Venus Williams, Andy Roddick, Martina Hingis, Eugenie Bouchard, Bob and Mike Bryan, John Isner and Madison Keys. The conference championships will take place on July 30, and the final will be played on Aug. 2. For more information, visit wtt.com.

— By Cindy Cantrell

 

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