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February 9, 2019

Billie Jean King

Asheville, North Carolina

BILLIE JEAN KING: I want to say thank you for being here because you help tell our story. In the old days, that's all we had. Now with social media, it's changed things. Also the photographers, camera people in the back, it takes a village to make these events. Audio back there. I want to say thank you before we start. I appreciate each and every one of you. I know how hard you work. I've run events before, tournaments, teams, leagues. Thank you.

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. What does it mean to be here for Fed Cup?
BILLIE JEAN KING: What does it mean to be here for Fed Cup?

Q. (Referring to the award to be given.)
BILLIE JEAN KING: Ilana and I wanted to come here. We had two reasons. First, Fed Cup. I keep telling Kathy, I love Fed Cup. I love team. Fed Cup being a team. Also I played on the very first Fed Cup match in 1963. I love it anyway. Always in touch with Kathy. I want us to do well. I want Fed Cup to do well. Obviously Australia has been there from the beginning, as well.

We're finally here. But we also have friends here. We got double benefit for being here. We're so excited to be here just to experience Fed Cup again. Obviously I'm an American so I'm biased. But I love Australia. Australia made me No. 1. I get a little pulled sometimes because without them I wouldn't have been No. 1.

THE MODERATOR: Billie is going to be honored with the Fed Cup Commitment Award tomorrow.

BILLIE JEAN KING: Oh, great (laughter). I think someone might have told me.

No, no, I really appreciate it. Don't ever take any award lightly, seriously. I always appreciate being honored. Great, 'commitment', I like that. It's a great word.

Q. You had a great Fed Cup career yourself, 52-4 record.
BILLIE JEAN KING: I had no idea.

Q. The wins and losses kind of blend in, but what stays with you all these years later?
BILLIE JEAN KING: The first one. It was played at Queen's Club. They invited 16 teams, the top countries in the world, just to see how this would go. We were there, and it started pouring. If you look at the list, they'll say it was on grass. It actually was not on grass. We started on grass, but we ended up going indoors on these gray boards, so fast at Queen's Club.

We played Australia in the finals. It was Lesley Turner and Margaret is she Smith, court then, against Darlene Hard and me. We were down three or four match points. Our captain, Bill Kellogg Sr., got so excited he about fell off the benches. We had to go retrieve him, put him back together.

Darlene, I could feel her maybe like, Okay, we're not going to win.

I just remember yelling at her saying, Darlene, we can win this. We were down match point at the time. We're going to win this. I said, We are going to win this, let's go.

She says, Okay, let's go.

And we did. We were so lucky because the boards were so fast. So I wanted us to be the first in history. That's important to me. History is very important to me. I knew we were the first. I said, We have to be the first.

Carole Caldwell was the other person on that team. I could remember a lot. I'm the last generation. When we're out of here, you won't hear the real story. So I just gave you the story.

Q. You spent some time with the 14-and-under girls.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Yesterday. They were great.

Q. Describe that experience.
BILLIE JEAN KING: First of all, they ended up being really great kids. You never know. I want to stay in touch with them now. By the end of it, the second half, we had so much fun. I actually asked them what they wanted. They really weren't too sure. We just started talking about things.

I talked to them about the more you know about history, the more you know about yourself. They were wondering. They just started thinking. I got Althea Gibson in there, I got Arthur Ashe in there. It's black history month. I was trying to say that. Do you know any players that play, any black names in history? They came up with Althea. They did. It was really amazing. That made me happy.

We talked about leadership. We talked about relationships. I have these three things I talk about in speeches, whether it's 60-year-olds, 100-year-olds, or 15-year-olds. That is that relationships are everything. Keep learning. Keep learning how to learn. Also be a problem solver.

The coaches were talking about decision making on the court, how quickly we have to make decisions. If you look at that third one, the problem solver, they really got into all that. They started really asking questions.

I asked, Do you do a journal?

Kind of, not really.

I always think it's important when you do a journal to measure yourself how you felt physically, mentally and emotionally that day, and spiritually, if you're spiritual. Over two or three months, you can start to see a pattern that really could be helpful. So they took that in.

I really wanted them to know their strengths. We had fun. I lined them up, What is your strength?

Swinging volley.

My backhand.

I go, Don't ever forget your strengths. Champions practice their strengths every day.

This is good. I could tell they were really taking it all in.

We went on the court, talked about ball recognition, about transition from the baseline to the net. We talked about leadership. They learned a little about the history of women's tennis and what a difficult time we had, the original nine in 1970, the birth of women's professional tennis.

They asked, How did you guys do that? Weren't you scared?

I said, Yeah, we were very scared. It was a very tough time for us. I wanted the men and women to be together. The men rejected us. It's a long story.

We talked about when we formed the WTA. They started really getting into it, asking. But then we worked on volleys. We did a lot. They started speaking up a lot more because I kept asking questions. I coach by asking questions. I don't coach by telling usually. I really ask questions. I have them discuss something together.

Just let them struggle. They'll figure it out. They got really good. From when we started till when we ended, they improved so much. I hopefully will stay in touch a little bit with them to see how they're doing. I'll do it through the USTA coaches.

Rich was out there telling me what they wanted. They really are working on decisions. You have to make decisions every moment. Every ball that comes to you, you have to make a decision.

We talked about direction versus where it lands. How do you want to think about it? Like a lot of people say, I hit cross-court. Well, cross-court can still be out or in the net, so...

We just really kept fine-tuning how champions think really. Why is someone a champion? Why are they not? I talked about the difference between mental toughness. Everyone says that. I don't personally agree with that. It's emotional and mental toughness. Obviously mental is what you think, emotional is what you feel. But the ones who win the most or stronger emotionally, not just mentally. It's emotional when you get down to really crucial times in a match. We talked about that.

They seemed to really love hearing that, just thinking about the differences. So it will be interesting if they keep a journal or not. I don't know. It will be fun. We'll just have fun with it.

I tell them right from the beginning, This is not a test, not an exam. This is about learning. I don't want you to get into, Do I have the right answer? No wrong or right answers, let's go.

Like the second thing I said, we're going to keep learning and keep learning how to learn. They started thinking that it's like a test, and it's not.

Anyway, we had fun. Sorry, it's too much. You guys can edit.

Q. Pretty exciting time for American tennis, especially women's tennis, all the young women coming up. Even this team, you have Sofia, who is 20. You have Danielle, fairly new to the tour.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Danielle is great. She went to college. I've been following her for a while. I'm very interested in players going to college. I think a lot of them should go to college. The socialization that goes on in college allows them to come from college to the tour and survive a lot easier, understand the culture, adapt faster. They're a little bit older, been socialized in college, been on a team.

Some of them think of someone besides themselves. You have to remember if you grow up in tournament tennis as a child, if that's all you know, you're always by yourself. That's not good.

Q. Curious of your opinion of the next generation. Anyone stick out to you of anyone to keep an eye on in particular?
BILLIE JEAN KING: I haven't watched them enough. I always defer to Kathy Rinaldi. I go, Kathy, what's up? She'll always tell me.

I'm very patient. You got to let people struggle and let them figure it out themselves. You have to watch them a few times. But in the end you have to learn how to finish. That's what I start to look for. Not good matches, but finish. You're not going to finish, you're going to lose a lot to win a lot. It's just the way it works.

Like Osaka, she's just so strong emotionally and mentally. She resets very quickly. Being able to reset quickly is really important. She does. I think it's great when we have someone who grew up in America. I know she's saying she's from Japan, but culturally she's us and Japanese and Haitian. That's great. You have more to draw from.

But I think if you make the Fed Cup, first of all, that in itself is a huge honor. Those are the kids you're going to look at. Like I'll be really watching all of them, whoever plays. I'll be taking information. I haven't been able to see them live, so this will be great. I watch them on Tennis Channel or ESPN.

I think I can tell you more by Sunday night than I can right now. I'm looking forward to these matches because they didn't work out the way everybody thought they were going to play. It's even more fun, more dramatic, I think.

Sonia, people are telling me she's very competitive. I know she's had great matches. But I'll ask myself, Which ones do I think in the long run can finish? It's so hard to finish. Haven't you already noticed that in life? Agreements. If you're writing a story. To finish is so difficult. That's what separates the top players. They know how to somehow raise their game a level if they have to.

Their observations are stronger, clearer. Clarity is important. All those things. I'll be watching for all those aspects as I watch them play. But by tomorrow night, I can tell you a lot more.

Q. A thought on Serena. Obviously she's 37. Maybe less time...
BILLIE JEAN KING: She knows it.

Q. Do you think she'll be able to equal Margaret, surpass her?
BILLIE JEAN KING: It's going to be very difficult. It's difficult anyway because you have to remember Margaret won probably was it 11 Australians, I think. Most of us did not go down there every year. It's apples and oranges to compare from the old days to now. But Margaret has the most.

I don't know where Serena is at. I'm going to be asking her soon when her foot is healed, her ankle, Do you even want to? She has to want it if she's going to get close. Margaret is such a great athlete, was a great athlete, too. Rosie Casals called her 'the arm' because she had such long arms.

I don't know. I have to know what Serena wants. But if she really wants it, if she's willing to pay the price to get fit, get more fit than she is even now... She's better than she was. She needs to get more fit. If she gets fit enough and wants it, I think she can do it.

Q. We've been hosting kid's days all week. We had a thousand children in this building.
BILLIE JEAN KING: I read that.

Q. Tennis has grown in the area. We have youth participation in double-digits.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Why do you think that? Do you think Fed Cup has helped?

Q. That's my question to you.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Absolutely. We are motivators when you're at the top. We're not the sheroes and the heroes. Those are the people helping the children. Those are the real sheroes and heroes. We can motivate and inspire. When you bring the best into a city, it makes a huge difference.

People in Asheville have been so great, so supportive. They sell out immediately. They don't even care who's playing. They're there for the country. That's what you want. Their attitude is fantastic.

So they took this opportunity, they're just using it to the hilt, which they should. To have more children in the sport, it is a sport of a lifetime. We don't have the concussion challenges a lot of sports have. You use your upper and lower body, which is very important to grow. There's all kinds of unbelievable opportunities in tennis.

Obviously hopefully get a scholarship to college if they're good enough, get a free education. Those things you can't say enough.

The community, I can tell, has really gotten behind it. When you create excitement, children see excitement, they get excited. I think it's great what you've done. I think it's great that you took advantage of this week and had them in here, let them on that court where the players play. They love that.

So I just hope that we continue to have tennis grow in Asheville, the surrounding areas. But I think Fed Cup, I'm sure it was the catalyst. That's why we need everything at the top and at the grassroots. I'm a huge believer in grassroots. If they don't get them to play, we're in trouble. I think we need a critical mass. We need to get the best athletes in the sport. Enough of the best, at least one or two in women's and men's. If you don't have the best athletes, you can't beat these other countries because of the way they do it.

It's hard. It's hard when you have baseball, football, the NBA. But there's no reason we can't win. There's no reason we can't have millions and millions of young people playing.

I know the USTA has made a huge jump. Craig Morris was the Net Generation. Everybody worked their backside off to make this happen. Tell everyone thank you for doing what I call the real work, which is on the grassroots level.

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