It's an unusual role for Billie Jean King, but then again she was never one to sit quietly. Still, people know her better for her court play and not so much for her words.
Tuesday, King showed up in Salt Lake City to talk. Later she was scheduled to show people how to play. That, now, is her game - talk and teach. Hopefully, she says, people will listen. Her message: "Bring tennis back to the grass-roots level.""Too much emphasis was put on being one of the top 10 or top 20, I think. You can't do this or that, they'd say, if you're not one of the top 10 or 20. You can't succeed if you're not one of the top 10 or 20. We lose a lot of players thinking that way," she said at a press conference Tuesday for the Domino's Pizza Teamtennis Tour. Later she left for Logan to play an exhibition match, then direct a teamtennis clinic.
"I don't care if a player is any good or not, as long as they like tennis. I remember I used to watch my brother's little league (baseball) games. None of them could hit or catch. They had fun, though, and they perceived themselves as baseball players. That's what counted. I'd like to see the same thing in tennis.
"Remember, in a tennis tournament 50 percent of the players are out after the first round, 75 percent after the second. At that level you'd better like it.
"But I don't think it's good for these young players to have to play Chris (Evert) or Martina (Navratilova) or (Ivan) Lendl in the first round. I'd like to seem more satellite tournaments where these players can learn to win."
What she is stressing with the Teamtennis Tour, she said, is getting tennis back on the recreational level, back with the local programs. It was at that level she started and because of strong local support, it helped her succeed.
"I remember they went out and got a bunch of doctors and lawyers to donate money so I could go to my first Wimbledon. There was strong support there. That's what we need now, strong involvement in local level. Strong community support towards tennis."
King, who has 20 Wimbledon titles to her credit, retired from the pro circuit in 1985. Since then she has been working at developing the recreational concept.
Asked about the pro circuit today, King said she believes it has gotten better within the past two year. She said the governing bodies, such as the United State Tennis Association, are taking a direction now.
"They are more accountable for their actions that they were. They are doing things, now, and not passing the buck. Back in 1968, when tennis become an open sport, no one paved the way for the future. No one was accountable. Everyone looked for quick fixes. To be good is a long-term effort and even then there are no guarantees. But the players had better like what they're doing.
"Sometimes I ask players what they want and many say make money. I ask them how? Here they get stuck. I tell them to do what they like first, and then turn that into money.