Billie Jean King not only lives in New York, she has an entire National Tennis Center named after her there. But beyond that, she appreciates the business and marketing significance for sports entities to have a strong presence in the area.
“I think New York is the most important market to have in the league; any league has to have New York,” she said in a recent interview promoting the upcoming season of World TeamTennis, in which she still is a minority owner.
That is one reason she was so pleased last summer with the improvement of the New York Empire under first-year coach Gigi Fernandez. The team went from two victories in 2016 to seven, and narrowly missed the playoffs.
That it coincided with a move from Forest Hills to Court 17 at the National Tennis Center in Queens only added to it.
“I feel responsibility when I’m there,” King said of the tennis center named for her. “I’m so excited the Empire are playing out there.”
She said 17 always has been one of her lucky numbers, in part because her brother, former major league pitcher Randy Moffitt, wore it.
“It’s a beautiful court, the players love it and it’s a great place for fans,” King said.
Despite last season’s improvement, it irked Fernandez that the weak link was women’s doubles, the event in which she won 17 Grand Slam titles.
So her goal for this season, which begins on July 15, was to shore up that part of the roster.
The July 20 match against the San Diego Aviators will be a fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Maria in her native Puerto Rico last September.
The Empire’s three biggest-name players — Mardy Fish, Genie Bouchard and John Isner — are back.
Why do so many well-known players continue to participate in WTT, more than 40 years since King helped found it?
“Because they like teams and they like the format, and I’m sure they like the money, too,” King said “We’re all pleased when they choose us.”