Unique gathering of former women's No.1 tennis players at Wimbledon
Event to mark the 40th aniversary of WTA Tour foundation in 1973
Tributes paid to first WTA president Billie Jean King
Current No.1 Serena Williams took center stage
It was the ultimate gathering of tennis talent.
A host of No.1 ranked women’s players, including Serena Williams, marked the 40th anniversary of the WTA with a unique get together at Wimbledon Sunday.
Williams, the latest in an elite list of women to reach the summit of the game since a unified women’s tour was founded in 1973, led the tributes to Billie Jean King, the driving force and first president of the association.
“Billie Jean has been my ultimate inspiration and taught me so many things about being a champion and staying a champion,” she told CNN.
“We are celebrating 40 amazing years of the WTA and none of this would have been possible if she hadn’t taken a stand for everyone.”
King, who won 12 grand slam singles titles, organized the meeting at the Gloucester Hotel in London, just a week before the 1973 Wimbledon Championships, where the Women’s Tennis Association formally came into being.
“We were working together to gain recognition for the future generation and to have one voice,” she told CNN.
“Sixty three of us got in a room, we locked the door, we elected the officers and we were in business,” she recalled.
King’s great rivals at the time, Australian pair Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong, were among the special invitees to the anniversary celebration, along with current stars such as Williams and her arch-rival Maria Sharapova.
To the left of Williams were Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, who between them occupied the No.1 spot for 592 weeks.
Swiss miss Martina Hingis, fourth in the all-time list for week’s in the top spot and Monica Seles, also sat side by side.
Seles, who battled it out for top spot with the likes of Hingis, and U.S. pair Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport, enjoyed being reunited with them, with old rivalries long forgotten.
“It’s a celebration where once we are retired we can relax, we don’t have competitive pressures and we can be friends,” she told CNN.
Germany’s Steffi Graf, who tops the list, was a notable absentee, as was Belgian favorite Kim Clijsters as she is expecting her second child soon.
In recent years, a clutch of players such as Dinara Safina, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka, have all briefly topped the rankings before Williams has reasserted her dominance in the game by winning three of the last four grand slams.
Her 6-2 6-0 dismissal of Kimiko Date-Krumm Saturday took her into the last 16 as she bids to defend her Wimbledon crown.
Her coach and partner Patrick Mouratoglou told CNN that Williams was well prepared for her tilt at a 17th grand slam crown.
“She is in good form and for the past year has been working really really hard,” he said.
“She has big goals and has done all the work necessary to be in a position to win a grand slam.”
Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard, who upset Serbia’s Ivanovic in the second round, represented the younger generation at the celebration along with American Madison Keys.
She fully appreciates the part played by King and other former players in helping bring riches and media attention to the women’s game.
“I’ve learned all about it, it’s a special event,” she told CNN.