Billy Jean King achieved her long-sought record for Wimbledon titles, teaming with Martina Navratilova to win the women's doubles today. But the occasion was saddened by the death Friday of the woman with whom she had shared the record since 1975.
King and Navratilova defeated Wendy Turnbull and Betty Stove, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, for King's 20th title, but she said that the death of Elizabeth Ryan - who collapsed at Wimbledon at the age of 87 - wa "heavy on my mind, every point."
Ryan, who grew up in Anaheim, Calif., 20 minutes from King's home in Long Beach, but had lived in London the past six years, apparently was stricken by a heart attack shortly after watching Navratilova defeat Chris Evert for the women's singles title Friday afternoon.
She died en route to a hospital.
Ryan, a large and imposing woman known as "Bunny," never won the Wimbledon singles, but set the record for titles by winning the women's doubles 12 times and the mixed doubles seven times between 1914 and 1934.
Ever since King won her sixth singles title in 1975, which along with her nine women's doubles and four mixed doubles titles tied her for the record of 19, Ryan had dreaded the day that she would be erased from the record books.
King had rot won a title the past three years, but Ryan told friends earlier this year that she had a premonition - a sad one as far as she was concerned - that this was the year King finally would eclipse her.
Ryan attended Wimbledon four days during this year's championships, but had not spoken to King. Friday, she complained of feeling "deadly tired" and collapsed a few minutes later.
Ryan's niece, Eliazbeth Partridge, said, "My sister and I are deeply thankful that she did not live to see her long-standing record brokern."
Ryan's death east a poignant sadness over King's triumphant afternoon.
'I'm not really that happy, I'm more relieved," said King. "Earlier this year Ted Tinling (the well-known tennis couturier and confidant of generations of tennis players) received a letter from Eliazbeth concerning the fact that she felt I was going to break her record this year. We talked about it earlier.
"I just think that, deep down, she really didn't want to see it broken while she was alive," said King, who won the first of her 10 women's doubles titles on her first trip to Wimbledon, as a 17-year-old, in 1961.
"I grew up with her in a way, because we're both from southern California and I remember her always walking around the Los Angeles Tennis Club when I played junior tournaments there.
"I remember one match when I was 13 - I was playing Carole Caldwell - and she was just there watching. I always remembered that day, and then Friday night when I heard that she had passed away, my whole life passed in front of me too, in a way. It's taken a lot of the joy out of winning . . . It was really touhg for me to play today.
"You have to admit, it's bizarre, I couldn't believe it when I heard she had died. There is a chapter in Teddy Tinling's book, 'Love and Faults,' called 'Elizabeth,' and I made a point of reading that this spring, and talked to Teddy about her, so that I could understand her better as a person," King went on.
"You know, people who make records push everything up to a different level. Like Bjorn Borg (who today won his fourth successive men's sinles title) has now created a new standard for the men, and my 20 titles is a new standard as well.
"Everyone can live up to those standards in the future. And even though you know someone is going to break it eventually, at least you've stretched the standard for the moment, which is good. It's a challenge."
King said she last spoke to Ryan during last year's tournament.
"She said she hoped I'd do really well, and if anyone ever broke her record, she hoped it would be me," King recalled.
Today's match was rather sloppy, but an altercation in the fourth game of the second set, with Stove serving at 0-30, spurred on Navratilova and King.
Stove served a fault but, after a late call, was incorrectly given two serves by the umpire. King and Navratilova objected, but the umpire's decision stood. King and Navratilova, incensed, won the point, broke Stove in that game and raced to a 5-0 lead in the final set.
"We couldn't believe the umpire was giving them two serves, and we couldn't believe that Wendy and Betty were going to take it without saying anything," King said.
"We got really angry at them, and I think that made a difference. After that, it was all downhill for them. We just busted a gut, we were so angry at them."