LOS ANGELES — The mere mention of Chicago brings a big smile to the face of Billie Jean King. “We lived in Chicago for a long time — still have an apartment there,” said the tennis icon during a chat about “Battle of the Sexes,” the new film starring Emma Stone as King.
Despite still owning a Gold Coast condo with her partner, Ilana Kloss, King admitted she regrets not “getting back to the city as much as I’d like. I think it’s the most underrated city in the world. I love the architecture and the fact the lake goes all the way to the horizon.
“We have that view from our place and I love looking at it during the day. And at night, we look down Michigan Avenue, and I just love that too.”
King, 73, wanted to make sure Chicagoans are well-aware of tennis pro Kamau Murray. “He has built this terrific athletic facility and tennis center in South Chicago, which is huge. He’s going to help so many kids learn to play tennis on the South Side of Chicago and in that area. I just love that guy so much, because he is doing a fantastic job of exposing our sport to young people who otherwise wouldn’t know a thing about tennis.
“It’s so important that young people of color learn how great tennis is. Yes, Venus and Serena [Williams] obviously have done so much for that, but Kamau coached Sloane Stevens who just won the [U.S.] Open, and won $3.7 million in prize money! Everybody in Chicago needs to know about him and what he’s doing.
“Everybody in Chicago should be really proud of Kamau!” she added, almost shouting that exhortation to the rafters.
“Battle of the Sexes” (opening Friday) focuses on King’s famed 1973 tennis match against Bobby Riggs (played by Steve Carell). King loves the way Stone portrayed her, but explained that after an initial meeting, the actress did not spend a great deal of time with King as she prepped for the role.
“In my 70s, I’m fully formed,” said King, but Stone “wanted to make sure she wasn’t getting that part of me. She needed to be how I was at 29. My voice wasn’t the same, I hadn’t found my voice, and I was so mixed up. Now we’re seeing tons of each other and we’re having a great time! But she did the right thing to put that off while she prepared to play me more than 40 years ago.”
King compared Stone’s preparation to her own for the Riggs match. “I spent two months learning everything I could, not just about how I would play Bobby, but everything about the Astrodome [where their match was played]. I knew every inch of that arena. I knew where all the entrances and exits and bathrooms were located. I knew who all the ball boys and referees were going to be. I had to completely concentrate on that match, because there was going to be only one that night, and I had to win it!
“Champions adjust and pressure is a privilege,” said King, saying it almost as a mantra she has followed for many decades. “The reason I did so much research about every detail related to that match was I knew I had one shot to beat Bobby, or otherwise women would again be pushed back into a permanent secondary role for a long, long time.”