Women’s tennis trailblazer Chris Evert has lauded modern players like Ons Jabeur and Naomi Osaka for transcending the sport.
Speaking on International Women’s Day, Evert also paid tribute to Billie Jean King for what she did for tennis and sport in general.
She feels that the profile enjoyed by Osaka and Jabeur would not have been possible if not for the work of King who was a tennis star as much as she was an activist and advocate.
When asked to name the tennis player she most admires, Evert told Eurosport: “I have to say Billie Jean King.
“I mean, if you were to ask me, she just started it all. She was the leader for women’s equal rights and equal opportunities and promoting the sport of tennis for women and promoting women athletes in general.
“She was basically saying it is okay to be athletic and have muscles and sweat on the court when in those days, in the 60s and 70s, it was frowned upon for a woman to be that way.
“So she changed not only the sport of tennis but the image of what a woman could be.”
Evert says that female athletes are now able to transcend their sports and enjoy an unprecedented profile.
“Female athletes transcend their sports now, they become icons. They use their platform to give very pertinent thoughts and talk about very important issues that relate to society, and they have the courage to speak up.
“Look what Naomi Osaka did with mental health. She just opened up a can of worms there and opened the door to have a conversation and to be empathetic and to realise that it is there and it is rampant – not only for athletes but people suffering from anxiety in general.
“I compare female athletes now to how they were not looked up to 40 years ago, 50 years ago. I think that they are very much respected, admired, and little girls want to grow up and become athletes now, not models or movie stars, necessarily. They want to grow up and be athletic and empower themselves that way.”
Evert feels that all the top female players bring something special and are important to the sport but she picked out Osaka and Jabeur as two who use their status for good.
“I think everybody brings something, all the top players,” Evert added.
“I mean, I don’t know how you can differentiate between Naomi for what she did for mental health and Jabeur for the influence she has in the Arab world and the African world.
“Ons has been a role model for women in that part of the world who haven’t had the rights and haven’t had the freedom and the resources that we’ve had over here in America or in other parts of the world. Talk about transcending the sport!”
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