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Billie Jean King wants combined tennis World Cup, shirt numbers

American tennis great Billie Jean King called this week for a combined women and men’s World Cup of tennis and for players to wear shirt numbers, to keep growing the sport.

The 39-time Grand Slam winner, including 12 singles titles, said she would bring the women’s Billy Jean King Cup and the men’s Davis Cup together into a World Cup.

Formerly the Federation Cup, the finals of the competition renamed in King’s honour takes place in Seville from November 7-12, while the Davis Cup finals are in Malaga between November 21-26, with both currently labelled the ‘World Cup’ of tennis.

“I want us together, I always want the men and women together. I always want us to be together at tournaments,” King told a media call ahead of the BJK Cup finals.

“People like it when we’re all happy together.”

King said the influence of football means it is more essential than ever for tennis to have its own recognisable World Cup.

“The World Cup has become more and more important because of the football … the whole world understands World Cup,” she continued. 

“When I say we’re the World Cup of women’s tennis, they get it right away, they know it’s country versus country, it’s exciting, it can be any place in the world.

“(I went) down to the World Cup in Australia and watched the women there, they had 75,000 people … it’s very exciting, the possibilities are unlimited.”

Many star names will be absent from the BJK Cup, including the top four ranked players, with Poland’s Iga Swiatek and American duo Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula unable to play because of their packed schedule. 

Aryna Sabalenka, the current world number one, is not involved because her country Belarus was suspended from participating after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Schedule crush

Swiatek, Gauff and Pegula will be at the WTA Finals in Mexico the week before, with the women’s tennis organising body selecting the venue in September, despite knowing the BJK Cup would be in Seville.

“We’ve had our date for a long time, I think you should ask the WTA (about that),” said King.

“(For) our sport, I think we all need to get together and figure out a better calendar for the players.

“I care about the sport, I care about the World Cup, I would like us to sit down and really try to figure it out, so everybody wins.”

King, 79, said tennis has to serve the fans first and one of the ways to do that would be to make players more identifiable on court.

“We have to think about the public, our fans, how do we make it easy for them? If you go to Wimbledon and they have to wear all white, you don’t know who the players are,” she continued.

“I think it’s ridiculous. They don’t have the name on the back of their shirts. I think we should have a number. Why should we have a number? Because children love numbers.

“This is about our audience. This isn’t about us, we go play to make our audience happy.

“Unfortunately, most players think the people come to watch them play, but our job as an entertainer, as a performer, as a pro athlete — when we walk on the court, the audience is everything.”

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