Billie Jean King raves about Coco Gauff, rips Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

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DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Tennis legend Billie Jean King finally met Coco Gauff’s grandmother on Friday.

Yvonne Odom was a leader at the women’s luncheon “Champions of Equity” at the Delray Beach Tennis Center, hours before the Billie Jean King Cup qualifier was waged between the USA and Austria.

The pioneering King, 79, now knows why Gauff is the way she is — a worldly 19-year-old top-10 tennis player with promise of greatness.

King even raised the thought of Coco becoming president one day.

“Look who’s raised her,’ King said. “I finally got to meet her grandmother. What an influence to grow up in that environment. How can you not be special? Now that I met her, I have her number, I’m going to talk to her (more) and call her. I care about civil rights, what she went through, the first child of color in Atlantic High School (then called Seacrest). I’m all over it.’

King said she recalled the speech Coco made in Delray Beach in June 2020 during the Black Lives Matter protests, and it all made sense.

“I listened to that and I go, ‘She’s the best,’ ‘ King said. “Can you imagine if she were No. 1? Holy cannoli, what she could accomplish. The world’s open to her. Why not be the president of the United States? Whatever she wants. She’s had a good background, good people around her.

“The grandmother has heart, she’s a force. I asked Grandmother if she wrote that (speech). She said, ‘No, that’s hers.’ ‘

Gauff, the Delray Beach, Florida, resident, played the first singles match Friday night against Austria’s top player, Julia Grabher, and prevailed 6-1, 6-3 to give the USA a 1-0 lead. Gauff’s doubles partner, Jessica Pegula beat Sinja Kraus 6-0, 7-5 in the second match of the night. Gauff is ranked sixth in the world and Pegula is third.

‘(Coco) is really special,’ King said. “Depends what she does with it. She still needs to improve her game. Let’s see where it goes.’

In a 30-minute presser, King addressed several topics including the U.S. Open’s decision to commemorate the 50th anniversary of equal prize money at the Queens Grand Slam and the potential of winning a Congressional Gold Medal.

King addresses Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law

Being in Florida, King, one of the first athletes to acknowledge herself as gay, also commented on the state’s controversial law that prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity up to the third grade or in a specified manner.

King took aim at the law known by its critics as ‘Don’t Say Gay’ as well as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the bill that became law on July 1, 2022.

King showed off her multicolored watch and said: “We must be bothering him. I have my rainbow watch on today.’

‘I think it’s sad,’ King added. “I’m very big on inclusion, everybody being their authentic self. If you heard my personal journey, which I thought I was straight, I realized later in life I wasn’t. I had to figure out who am I, who is my authentic self. Going through that journey just for me personally, the important thing is to be welcoming to everyone.’

DeSantis’ latest push is extending the law to include all grades.

“I have no control over what the governor is doing,’ King said. “He probably has gay kids in his family. He’ll say he doesn’t probably, but I bet he does. Most people have gay relatives, even if they don’t know it.

“I’m about inclusion. I think you should have different people on the (school) board. Shouldn’t just be the people like you, that look like you, think like you. I think it’s important to have people who think differently. That’s how you really win. You get great ideas from so many different sources in life. It’s really important to be open I think to people.’

U.S. Open celebrates 50 years of equality

The U.S. Open will have a series of celebrations in August to honor its decision in 1973 to have equal prize money for men and women. It wasn’t until 2007 that all four majors had equal prize money.

“We’re not even close,’ King said in terms of sports equality. ‘Forty percent of professional athletes are women. We are up to a whopping 5 percent in the media. Media rights is where all the money is, The women in college, NCAA, they always throw it for nothing. Like, if you make the deal for the guys, oh, we’ll give you the women, too. ‘Give.’ It’s the mindset we’re not worth anything. We have to make ourselves worth something.’

Because of King’s push for equal prize money back in the 1970s, the USTA wants to get King recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal.

“That would be an amazing gift to me personally,’ King said.

King received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama in 2009.

As for the international competition, if USA beats Austria, it moves on to the 12-country finals in November. Coached by Kathy Rinaldi, Gauff, Pegula, Danielle Collins, Caty McNally and Sofia Kenin represent the USA.

“I think the American team — how can they not win if they play their best?’ King said. “Jessica, Coco, Danielle, Caty and Sofia, They’re the best players in the world. And the best thing, they get along great.’

This post appeared first on USA TODAY