Billie Jean has resented sharing the No. 1 ranking with Nancy since last February, when the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association voted to yoke them—an unprecedented decision. In the original list, which was recommended by the rankings committee and was expected to be routinely approved at the yearly USLTA meeting, Billie Jean was No. 1 and Nancy No. 2. Placing traditional emphasis on summer-season results, the committee felt that Billie Jean deserved top billing. She had done better at Wimbledon than Nancy in 1965 and had reached the final at Forest Hills after an undefeated grass-court season.
But when USLTA delegates from all over the country met in Palm Beach for their convention, overstuffed as ever with intrigue, the rankings were overturned. The Texas delegation, stumping for its candidate, put over a motion that the No. 1 ranking be shared.
Billie Jean justifiably feels that she was jobbed. "Politics!" she snorts. "You earn something on the court and then they take it away from you in a meeting, people who never saw you play. Why do they even have a ranking committee if they won't accept its findings? There are some things, your accomplishments, that should be beyond politics. What hurt most was that my own southern California people didn't stand up for me in that meeting.
"So I win Wimbledon and the grass-court tournaments in the East. So what? Last year proved that the only way they'll let me have No. 1 all to myself is if I win Forest Hills.
"And," she says impatiently, "where has Nancy been this summer? The same place she was last year—avoiding me. She doesn't like grass, so she won't risk her record by playing a single tournament until Forest Hills. It's worked out fine for her—she got the No. 1 ranking with me."
Nancy retorts, "Where was Billie Jean when I was winning the U.S. Clay Courts in Milwaukee? I understand she was playing an exhibition in Louisville. Is she afraid to play me on clay?
"It's silly to say I'm avoiding her. In May I went to her home territory [ California] to play the U.S. Hard Courts. I intended to face her there, but I was upset by Patti Hogan and Billie won the tournament.
"To get ready for Forest Hills I rest, and just do some practicing," Nancy goes on. "I need to rest at this time of year. The rankings aren't just for the grass-court season. They're for the whole year, and during the ranking period I was the only player in the world with an edge over Margaret Smith. Wins on clay are just as good as wins on anything else. I don't like the joint ranking any better than Billie does. I feel I should be No. 1 alone, too."
Next week the talking will stop, and a lot of people are hoping they can walk into the stadium at Forest Hills along with Clark Graebner and watch Billie Jean and Nancy settle this thing in the women's finals.