LONDON Nov 21 As a player who has been involved
with tennis for almost half a century, Billie Jean King was lost
for words when she tried to sum up the 2007 season.
After fidgeting with her glasses and staring at the ceiling
of the Nursery Pavilion in Lord's cricket ground for what seemed
like an eternity, she shrugged her shoulders and said: "It's so
With plotlines straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster, the
genteel sport of tennis has been left reeling over the past
three months with allegations of match-fixing, gambling, doping
and even poisoning overshadowing the on-court action.
Topping King's list of most surprising revelations was
Martina Hingis's announcement that she had failed a drugs test
An emotional Hingis stunned the sporting world earlier this
month when she declared she had tested positive for cocaine in
June. The Swiss, who promptly retired from tennis, insisted she
had never taken any drugs.
"It just doesn't make sense... it's just not her," King told
Reuters in an interview.
"She was going to retire anyway. I do believe Martina
Hingis. If she says she hasn't taken it, I believe it.
"Maybe she went out to a party... and others had dope around
and leave it on tables and if you get it on your hands and maybe
you ingest it and you don't even know. There are so many
possibilities now. It's just not in Hingis's character. I'd
stand by her.
"Characters are revealing and I think it's great she came
out first and took it head on. That's a pretty good sign too as
a lot of players always wait (for an official announcement) and
she thought to heck with it. That was smart."
But the 63-year-old King, who won 39 grand slam singles and
doubles title during her illustrious career and is credited with
changing the face of women's tennis, admitted the allegations
have hurt the sport's image.
"None of this ever helps but I don't think it's fair (to
focus)... on one or two incidents when you've got thousands of
women and girls playing throughout the world," said King after
receiving a Sony Ericsson Lifetime Achievement Award at the
Sportswomen of the Year Awards.
Tapping the table with her knuckles, she added: "Knock on
wood after this year... I don't know of any other players ever
to think about taking drugs. They are so healthy, especially the
top ones. They are so into fitness. You can't perform (by taking
drugs) especially one-on-one."
Even though tennis hit the headlines for all the wrong
reasons, King felt people should not forget the on-court
achievements of players such as world number one Justine Henin,
who won 10 titles including two grand slams in 2007 despite the
break down of her marriage.
"I think the Justine Henin story for women's tennis this
year is just (fantastic)," said King.
"She's the greatest athlete considering her size and
everything. She's the best for her size ever to have lived.
"I admire her as it takes a lot of courage to say that 'I'm
having family troubles and I'm going to figure it out and make
it right again'.
"Most people want to have the tension and argue... and love
that tension to go on for the rest of their lives so they can
always blame somebody.
"She seems more centred and is getting better than ever,"
added King about a player who lost only four matches all year.
(Editing by Alison Wildey)