|Gauff gave a shout out to the lesbian icon after receiving her $3 million check.
Tennis’s newest champion, Coco Gauff, 19, has gained the support of both existing and new fans for both her achievements and her personality. She took a moment over the weekend to highlight the important work of lesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King, who has worked years to ensure pay equity in the sport.
Gauff, the world No. 10 women’s singles player, defeated Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka 2-6 6-3 6-2 with a surprising comeback in the women’s U.S. Open final on Saturday. Having won the title, she became the youngest American to do so since Serena Williams in 1999.
After the win, Gauff collected her $3 million check, and she gave a heartfelt thanks to tennis legend Billie Jean King.
“Thank you, Billie,” Gauff said after receiving the check, “for fighting for this.”
King won 39 Grand Slam titles throughout her career, changing the world of sports along the way. She defeated Bobby Riggs in The Battle of the Sexes in 1973 in front of around 50 million people. It's been described as a milestone in the acceptance of female athletes by the public, as well as a triumph for women’s rights.
King was a key advocate for equal pay at major tennis tournaments, having won the U.S. Open four times herself. After winning the singles title at Flushing Meadows in 1972, she used her influence to implement change.
As a winner, King earned $15,000 less than the men’s champion of that year. Unless the men’s and women’s singles champions received equal payouts, she threatened not to compete in the tournament the following year.
She achieved what she had been working on for quite some time the following season. With Gauff’s win, the U.S. Open marked 50 years since it awarded equal prizes to the winner of each tournament.
King’s fight paved the way for Gauff and every woman who has won the U.S. Open since.
In addition to the Women’s Tennis Association, King also founded the Women’s Sports Foundation. In 1998, King made headlines when she came out of the closet. She became the first out lesbian coach of the United States women’s tennis team in 2000.