Tennis Superstar Williams on Equal Pay -- and Equal Play

Wimbledon champion Venus Williams says it took a lot of work for women to receive equal prize money at the All England Club's grand slam event, but it was worth it. She credits tennis legend Billie Jean King for starting and continuing the push.

"For us, it was about gender equality, not about how much we can get paid, but it was about being on equal terms as human beings," she said.

Williams brought home a hefty paycheck for a fortnight's work at Wimbledon this year -- about $1.41 million -- the same as men's champion Roger Federer. It was the first time in the 123-year history of women's singles at the tournament that men and women were on equal footing -- and 33 years after the U.S Open fell into step.

But long before the grand slam tournaments started awarding the same prize money to men and women, the relatively small-time league of World Team Tennis was formed to promote equal pay -- and equal play -- on the court.

Men and women compete together in the team league format created back in 1974 by Billie Jean King and her then-husband Larry King.

Top players like Venus Williams, her sister Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport, as well as former stars Pete Sampras and John McEnroe, swing a racket for World Team Tennis.

"I just love the atmosphere," Williams said last week, just before her team, the Philadelphia Freedoms, went up against the New York Sportimes in Mamaroneck, N.Y. "When I'm playing Wimbledon for example, it's such a high pressure situation and I don't necessarily get to enjoy that people are enjoying what I do. But when I come out here, I get a chance to entertain the crowd and show my best shots."

Here's how a World Team Tennis match works: Teams go head-to-head in five sets -- men's and women's singles, men's and women's doubles and mixed doubles. At the end of the match, the team with the most total points is the victor. The players get paid for each game they win.

The four-week professional league helps create buzz for local team tennis leagues across the country.

"Team tennis represents everything that Billie Jean is about, which is equality," said Ilana Kloss, the CEO and commissioner of WTT. "Whether you're a little boy or a little girl, when you come to a World Team Tennis match you can see yourself."

To help attract young girls and boys to the sport, King turned some of the rules of traditional tennis upside down for WTT. There's no umpire to shush fans who make noise during a match. In fact, it's just the opposite. Cheering during the match is encouraged, rock music is played between points and it's OK to walk through the stadium during points. If a player hits a ball into the stands, the fan who catches it keeps it for an autograph after the match.

"We want participation, not observation," said Kloss. "We want kids to be able to cheer for their teams and to be able to walk around."

At each match, every child from ages 4 to 16 gets a free tennis racket from WTT's lead sponsor, Advanta. Kloss said more than 100,000 rackets have been given out so far.

Venus Williams said that because tennis has done so much for her life, she's excited to participate in an event that helps the sport grow.

"It's important to see the kids out here and to see them wanting to play and getting rackets," she said.

As she wraps up her time with the Philadelphia Freedoms, Williams is gunning for a seventh grand slam title -- and another equal paycheck -- at the U.S. Open next month.

"I've been playing nonstop all year," Williams said. "So hopefully I'll be peaking at the U.S. Open."

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