NEW YORK — Billie Jean King’s plaque is a “Pokemon Go” stop at the U.S. Open.
The picture of King, with her accomplishments listed in bronze, greets visitors in the walkway to the USTA facility in Queens that bears her name. She tweeted: “Have fun kids … and adults!”
It’s been 10 years since the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows was renamed in her honor on Aug. 28, 2006. The 39-time Grand Slam champion also noted on her twitter page that Althea Gibson became the first African-American to play in the U.S. Championships 66 years ago.
She tweeted her signature line, “You have to See it to Be it,” along with “Mi Casa Es Su Casa.”
King won four U.S. Open singles titles, five doubles and four mixed doubles at the West Side Tennis Club, the former site of the Grand Slam event.
She likes the odds of top-ranked Serena Williams breaking Steffi Graf’s Open-era record of 22 major singles titles next week. There’s also the likelihood that Williams will reach the overall record held by King’s contemporary Margaret Court of Australia, who finished with 24 major titles.
It all depends on whether Williams wants to keep playing and stays healthy, King says.
Here are some things on the mind of the 72-year-old tennis great, who is currently developing the next generation of diverse leaders through the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative:
Serena Williams has 42 aces through four matches at the U.S. Open, serving an average of 108 mph with the highest at 126. She’s winning 87 percent of her first-service points.
The sore shoulder that bothered Williams after winning Wimbledon and tying Graf’s record in July seems much better after resting it and playing just three matches at the Rio Olympics.
“Usually, she’s pretty well when the majors come along,” King said. “She gets through them.”
King wants to see scoring changes at the Olympics to speed up the match for players, fans and TV. Her World Team Tennis league, which celebrated its 41st season last month, uses a four-point format with no-ad scoring and five-game sets.
King, a former coach of the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Olympic tennis teams, has discussed it with David Haggerty, president of the International Tennis Federation. The international governing body oversees Olympic tennis.
The four majors and the Olympics are the only events where men must win three sets rather than two. Andy Murray of Britain defended his gold medal against Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina in a best-of-five match 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.
What’s the benefit of a four-point, five-game set and best-of-three scenario?
“First of all, the calendar is so full, players are playing too much,” King said. “It wears the guys out. Look at that Murray match … exhausting. Wrong. They could have been hugging at the net after three.”
Roger Federer, who tops the men’s record book with 17 Grand Slam titles, is recovering from knee surgery. He missed the U.S. Open for the first time since 1999 but plans to return to the ATP tour in January.
“I hope he’s back. I don’t even care if he wins anymore,” King said of the 35-year-old Swiss player. “He’s just so beautiful to watch.
“He’s a guy who really has a passion to play. Most guys would’ve quit by now because they made all that money and they’ve got all this fame. He’s one player who is going to really miss playing. He loves it.”
Federer also is raising two sets of twins with wife Mirka, a former player on the WTA tour. He posted a photo of himself hiking in the Swiss Alps over the weekend.
King appreciates the “balletic gift” he brings, plus the 14 Grand Slam titles Rafael Nadal has added to the sport.
“We’re lucky to have him — he and Nadal went to tennis and not soccer,” she said. “Can you imagine if they both had decided to play soccer?”
The self-proclaimed champion of equal rights in sports and life has campaigned for Hillary Clinton, attending the Democratic National Convention and various events this year.
King says she’s waited a lifetime for the U.S. to elect its first female president. She campaigned for Clinton in 2008 before backing Barack Obama.
“That was always one of my prayers as a young girl, absolutely,” King said. “It was so obvious we needed to have more women. If you can see it, you can be it. That’s what I believe in.
“This is going to change the paradigm a lot, hopefully, when she wins. She’s going to affect boys and girls in a huge way, just like Obama did.”