Billie Jean King: Seeing Althea Gibson become World no. 1 changed my life

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Billie Jean King: Seeing Althea Gibson become World no. 1 changed my life

Tennis legend Billie Jean King says she knew she wanted to become World No. 1 in tennis when, at the age of 13 years old, she saw Althea Gibson play in Los Angeles. King, one of the most influential figures in tennis history, spoke to USA Today after being named as one USA TODAY's Women of the Century.

Billie Jean King says seeing Althea Gibson as the World No. 1 changed my whole world

In the interview, King was asked about her role models and she says, "I read every history book I could on tennis. I knew every champion at Wimbledon.

I knew every doubles and mixed (doubles) champions at that time. If you fast-forward to 13, I got to see Althea Gibson play at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, which is kind of the Mecca of the Southern California tennis world where all our big tournaments were played.

I saw Althea Gibson and she was No. 1 in the world at the time. She's the first Black player ever to win a major. If you can see it, you can be it. I knew now what No. 1 of the world looked like. That changed my whole world. I really know that I stand on the shoulders of others."

In 1956, Althea Gibson became the first African American to win a Grand Slam title - the French Championships. In all, she won 11 Grand Slam tournaments: five singles titles, five doubles titles, and one mixed doubles title.

Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame. In the early 1960s, she also became the first Black player to compete on the Women's Professional Golf Tour.

King has long been an advocate of equal rights and also gave her views on the Black Lives Matter movement. "I'm very optimistic about it. I spent so much of my time, the last 25 years, in schools all across the country, speaking to kids about my experience and trying to get them to understand that racism really has no place in the hearts and minds of our children.

I believe that if we are to get past our racial differences, it's definitely going to come from our young people." Billie Jean King is considered one of the legends of the game - having won 39 Grand Slam titles: 12 in singles, 16 in women's doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles. She is part of the Original Nine that helped form the WTA Tour in the 1970s. (Picture via USTA Twitter account)