But according to the tennis legend, who was recently in San Diego to host her annual World Team Tennis (WTT) Junior Nationals at the Barnes Tennis Center in Point Loma, the traditional scoring format is not a great fit for Americans, compared to many of the other Olympic sports.
“The matches are too long being two out of three sets, and so it does not work well for television,” she said. “What they need to do is come up with a different type of scoring system of the Olympics. Just try something new.”
Not surprisingly, King endorses something along the lines of what she uses for the WTT — which she founded — and its teams of professional tour players. Those rules, among other things, count a Game One as a “point” for a team. Such a scoring format would lend itself to an Olympic tennis team event. And, instead of the need to win two of three sets, competitors only play one set.
For 17 consecutive years, King has come to San Diego and used that approach with her junior tournament.
“Every year it gets better, and I love spending time with the kids on the teams,” said King.
For this year’s event, there were 16 co-ed teams with players from 21 states. Team members range in age from 14-18 years old and cannot be ranked in the Top 150 of their United States Tennis Association (USTA) section. Also participating for the first time in the history of the event was a wheelchair tennis player, Shelby Baron, from Team Hawaii Warriors.
However, King’s desire for a team approach to tennis is not limited only to specific events like the Olympics or the WTT Junior Nationals. She said she would like to see it at all levels.
“I want 6-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 10-year-olds and everyone else to be able to sign up for a tennis team,” she said. “What sports are in the news every day? It’s those with teams. Tennis has individual scores from tournaments, but we need to be like baseball.”
Compounding the challenge is King’s well-known dislike for people taking tennis “lessons” from “teaching professionals,” contrasted with other sports where participants go to “practices” with “coaches.”
“Taking a weekly tennis lesson makes it seem like you are going to learn how to play a musical instrument. It sounds so unappealing,” she said. “Team practices sounds much more fun than lessons.”
One argument King cites in support of the benefits of being on a team, even for a short time, is when she was the USA Federation Cup coach. The “Fed Cup” as it is commonly referred to, consists of teams from a wide range of countries and is comprised of their best female players.
“Every time Serena (Williams) played on Fed Cup teams I coached, the very first tournament she played afterward she won,” said King. “Every time.”
What about those aspects of the professional tour often cited as unappealing to many fans? Specifically, the grunting sounds when players hit the ball?
“I believe you are going to see some new rules in the near future but they may not apply to the current players on the tour,” King said. “Rather, it will be enforced starting at the junior level before those players become professionals. But, at this point, nothing has been finalized.”
What King is certain of is that there is no comparison between the current generation of professional players and those who played when she was on the tour.
“The equipment, and especially recently the strings now used, have had such a huge impact on the game. Also, the overall conditioning is so much better,” she said. “I learned how to play swinging my arm and racquet. Nobody ever talked about using your core strength to hit a ball.”
Despite all her accomplishments on the professional tour and her much-revered place in tennis history, she expresses admiration for the pro players of today.
“I would give anything to know what it is like to hit the ball as hard they do now,” she said. “Even for just one minute or a single point.”
For more information on the WTT Junior Nationals, including final results, visit www.wtt.com and click on “Junior Nationals” under “Local Leagues & Tournaments.”