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National

Tennis has power to unite both globally and locally, says Billie Jean King in Asheville

Victoria Chiesa | April 15, 2022

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The 'World Cup of women’s tennis' now bears her name, and Billie Jean King says that tennis can do just as much good close to home as it can globally.

 

The trailblazing legend of sport was the guest of honor Friday in Asheville for the first day of the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier between the United States and Ukraine, the first tie on U.S. soil since the storied Fed Cup competition was named for her in 2020. Ahead of the event, King and her partner, Ilana Kloss, announced a $50,000 donation to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund by Global Giving and the Tennis Plays for Peace initiative, supporting humanitarian relief efforts on the ground during the current war in Ukraine. Their donation was matched by BNP Paribas, the title sponsor of the Billie Jean King Cup; local Asheville sponsors Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos, Ingles Markets and New Belgium Brewing Company are also making contributions, and the USTA is contributing 10% of ticket sales from the event.

 

Tennis Plays for Peace has raised nearly $1 million to date, and King expects that total will be reached in the coming days.  

Read more: Alison Riske makes history; U.S. leads Ukraine after Day 1 of Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier

 

“Anything we can do to help in peace, help get behind people … I'm glad we can be a part of helping Ukraine and the people of Ukraine,” King said.

 

“You can always make an impact. When I was 12, I was daydreaming. I thought everybody in tennis wore white shoes, white clothes, white balls. I asked myself, ‘Where is everybody else?’ I made a promise to myself I'd fight for equality from that moment on. I think that's what we're trying to do.”

 

She added: “The players, the Ukrainians, Olga [Savchuk] the captain, said this is where it's supposed to go. They know it will get to people who need it … The players feel it. They were telling me in the locker room. They know it. They feel it. They appreciate everybody here and how much they've supported it.” 

 

At the event, King met with both teams, as well as U.S. Paralympians Emmy Kaiser, Dana Mathewson, Conner Stroud and coach Paul Walker, and young players from the junior U.S. Billie Jean King Cup team and the USTA Player Development program. She later participated in the tie’s opening ceremony, standing proudly with both teams on the court as their national anthems were sung.  

 

While King noted that sport can unite and inspire on a global scale, pointing to how tennis has rallied around Ukraine both at this tie and more broadly in recent months as a prime example, she also said that bringing this international competition to communities like Asheville can only strengthen the sport at the grassroots level. Local USTA tournament and league participation has increased 20% following the last two Billie Jean King Cup played in Asheville, and King hopes that further momentum for the sport nationwide will come from the nearly 5 million people who've picked up a racquet in the last two years

Read more: Grassroots tennis set to boom in Asheville again after 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier

 

“You see people represent their country. There's something very special about it. There's nothing like it. Usually, they're the inspiration a lot of times, the motivators, to get people into our sport … but the real true sheroes and heroes are the people on the ground,” King said.

 

“The U.S. team, they get kids, especially from the U.S., anyplace in the world, because you never know, they inspire. When I was a little kid, I looked up to the players. I love history, so they inspired me.

 

“The point is it takes a village … It’s having access. It's having public parks. It's having coaching. Coaching is vital. Coaching is huge. Teaching. Even if you get the children organized, you're so important. If you get them organized, find a way to get them to the competition.

“These are the things. The local communities are everything. The schools, the communities, the people, it is unsung heroes and sheroes. Those are the real ones. I can't thank the community enough and the other communities that participate because without [them], it wouldn't be successful.”

 

Tennis Plays for Peace was launched last month by the seven governing bodies of world tennis—the ITF, ATP, WTA and the four Grand Slams—with each organization committing $100,000 to the fund. Join our collective effort in providing financial support for Ukraine by donating now at tennisplaysforpeace.com.

 

All photos: Mike Lawrence/USTA

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