A few days before her first match in this year’s U.S. Open, Angelique Kerber joined Billie Jean King Thursday afternoon in New York City’s Riverside Park for an Adidas shoot.
The two pros teamed up to help Adidas’ “Here to Create Change,” an initiative to encourage girls to be active and stay in sports. In New York City alone, an estimated 1.7 million potential girl athletes stop playing sports. The timing will be set for Women’s Equality Day and Adidas will honor King by dropping a limited-edition AM4BJK SPEEDFACTORY shoe Monday in its U.S. Open store and its Fifth Avenue store.
Long after her professional career, King continues to be a vocal advocate championing girls’ and women’s participation in sports. In this age of women’s empowerment and one year after the start of the #MeToo movement, King didn’t sound fazed by how long the shift has taken. “Change doesn’t happen fast, but every generation has to fight for it. I’m older now, so I’ve passed the baton. I support the Millennials and Gen Z because they’re the two greatest generations ever for inclusion,” King said. “The world is a better place with these younger people in it, because they’re not so hung up on what you look like or what your customs are. They’re very interested in each other and that’s because of technology. Technology has been a great way to exchange information, to get to know each other, to mobilize. It’s amazing what you can do to help each other.”
With the U.S. Open days away, Kerber acknowledged how King’s barrier-breaking helped her own standing in the world of sports. The upcoming Grand Slam provides a chance to “show the fans from around the world how great the sport is. Without Billie, I wouldn’t be her. Everybody is so thankful for what she did for us. This is what our generation is trying to do too — to give back,” Kerber said. “You also want to show how the sport is good for a healthy life, for your job, for everything. You have to deal with the pressure and a lot of things that give you the opportunity to build a better life, maybe even also learning to relax more.”
Kerber’s first-round match at the U.S. Open is set for Monday, but King isn’t doling out advice. “Not unless she wants it. I try not to do that with players. Sometimes, I can’t help myself. If I’ve noticed something and I see them, I might say something,” she said. “But in the end, they have to decide what pertains to them and what doesn’t. When people told me things, I would just go away and glean the information that I knew pertained to what I needed at the time. I’m probably one of the few who would say that. Most players don’t want anyone saying anything to them.”
As the reigning women’s Wimbledon champ, Kerber is still adjusting to what was always a dream for her. “Sometimes you win a big tournament and then you have to get used to all of the things that you have to deal with afterward. You have things to do during the tournament. The priority for me is playing tennis and enjoying what I’m doing on the court. My goal is playing the matches that I’ve been practicing for. Being on the big stage, playing against the best players and having all the emotions that come with that.”
Aside from listening to music before stepping on court and consulting with her team minutes before, there are no routines other than focusing on the match and staying in the moment. But Kerber isn’t worried about any superstitions. “I am somebody who likes to change a lot of things and to try new restaurants even during tournaments. I am not the kind of person who is always eating the same things. I decided one day, ‘OK, you are in such a great city, you have to try new things, see new things.'” she said.