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Billie Jean King: ‘Be ahead of your time – that’s what you have to do’

The tennis champion’s lifelong fight for equality and freedom is celebrated in a new film about the Battle of the Sexes. She talks about not being comfortable in her own skin until she was 51, and why millennials give her hope

In 1955, when she was 12 years old, Billie Jean King says she had an epiphany. “I was daydreaming about my little tiny universe of tennis, and I thought to myself: ‘Everybody’s wearing white shoes, white socks, white clothes, playing with white balls, everybody who plays is white. Where is everybody else?’” she recalls. “That was the moment I decided to fight for equality and freedom and equal rights and opportunities for everyone. Everyone. Not just girls. Everyone.”

Now, 62 years later, the most sensational moment of her long, boundary-smashing tennis career has been turned into a film. Directed by Little Miss Sunshine’s Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Battle of the Sexes tells of the run-up to that infamous high-stakes 1973 match between King (Emma Stone) and the showboating, self-confessed “male chauvinist pig” Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), in front of 30,000 live spectators and a colossal Superbowl-sized TV audience. But those expecting a straightforward sports movie may be surprised by its intimacy, as it draws a parallel between the weight of having to prove the worth of all female athletes in that one match, and the distress of hiding a secret affair with her female hairdresser from both her husband Larry and the world.

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