Billie Jean King Took a 20 Year Break from Tennis

Billie Jean King retired from playing tennis in 1983, after a storied career that included securing equal pay for women’s tennis players and winning 12 Grand Slam singles titles. Since, she’s remained deeply involved in the sport, serving as an ambassador of sorts for tennis and women’s athletics worldwide—but, it turns out King took a took a 20 year break from playing, even just for fun. During the pandemic, however, her wife Ilana Kloss encouraged her to pick up a racket again.

“Ilana got me playing again during COVID,” King says in a conversation ahead of the 2023 U.S. Open. “She says, ‘Now we have a little more time for a change, why don’t you start hitting? You love to hit the ball so much. You love tennis so much.’ And I go, ‘Okay.’ I’ve got horrible knees and I’ve had a shoulder… I mean, I’m a mess, but get out there and hit is great.”

King adds, “I was so bad at the beginning, but Ilana’s very patient. She could put it right on my racket. It was glorious. It’s great. It brings back memories.”

It’s been a reflective summer for King, as the Open is celebrating 50 years of equal pay and September marks 50 years since the famous “Battle of the Sexes.” It doesn’t feel like 50 years, she says. “It feels like 5 years sometimes. Other times it feels longer, but no. Of course, I’m always looking ahead, anyway.”

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Emily Burack (she/her) is the news writer for Town & Country, where she covers entertainment, culture, the royals, and a range of other subjects. Before joining T&C, she was the deputy managing editor at Hey Alma, a Jewish culture site. Follow her @emburack on Twitter and Instagram.