When the question regarding the gender imbalance in the night schedule at Roland Garros emerged from the gathered press, Billie Jean King was more than ready.

While urging Grand Slams to require women to play best-of-five, she made a compelling case that both men and women should play best-of-three matches. This turned into a plea, with the consumer in mind, to ban opposing players from wearing matching outfits and to initiate player names spelled out on their backs, possibly even numbers like other sports professionals. A lengthy but generally compelling dissertation on marketing and media relations followed, and then, somewhere over 900 words, this:

“Don’t get me started. You’ve heard that from me before. This is not new information.

Uh, too late. King continues to agitate and innovate on behalf of women in athletics. It has been 50 years since Title IX went into effect on June 23, 1972 in the United States, prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funding. It’s entirely possible that King was his most vocal — and effective — defender.

Fifty years later, Peachy Kellmeyer’s contributions to Title IX remain as important as ever

“I was a pre-Title IX student-athlete at Cal-State Los Angeles, and I thought I was living big,” King said in a recent video. “I had two jobs to cover my school expenses, but just a few miles away Arthur Ashe had a full tennis scholarship at UCLA. And Stan Smith has come full circle at USC.

“The three of us have become the No. 1 ranked tennis players in the world.”

In 1971, the year before Title IX, fewer than 300,000 girls participated in high school sports, one in 27. Twenty years later, the total was approaching 3 million, or about one in 2½. The latest figure, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation, is 3.4 million.

Because of Title IX and the movement it spawned, opportunities for women in college athletics are no longer the exception – they are the rule.

Danielle Collins played four years at the University of Virginia, leading the Cavaliers to a pair of national titles, and won the Honda Sports Award in 2016 as the nation’s top tennis player. She is currently ranked in the Top 10 of the Hologic WTA Tour.

Australia’s Astra Sharma helped Vanderbilt University win the 2015 NCAA title and was named 2017 SEC Player of the Year before earning a degree in medicine, health and society in 2018. Earlier this year, she earned a master’s degree in applied physiology and kinesiology through a partnership between the University of Florida and the WTA.

Eleven-time Grand Slam champion Lisa Raymond (six titles in women’s doubles, five in mixed), received an athletics scholarship to the University of Florida. She won the NCAA singles title in 1992 and 1993 led the Gators to their first NCAA title in 1992.

Two decades earlier, a lawsuit was filed by Peachy Kellmeyer, a talented junior player who became director of physical education at Marymount College. Frustrated that the modest scholarships she managed to offer her players were deemed illegal by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, Kellmeyer and her school were part of what became a landmark decision in February 1973.

“It demonstrated that any discrimination against female athletes would not be tolerated by the courts,” said Kellmeyer, who recently retired after 48 years with the WTA. “Yes, one could say that the litigation gave some teeth to the Title IX legislation.”

In retrospect, King’s victory over Bobby Riggs in the “battle of the sexes” later this fall is perhaps just as significant. A television audience of 50 million and a crowd of 30,000 at the Astrodome in Houston saw King defeat the self-proclaimed jingoist 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

“That year, 1973, so many things were started by Billie Jean,” Kellmeyer said. “She made you feel that if something was wrong, don’t talk about it – fix it. Even to this day, that’s true. She pushes you and she pushes you to dream big. Can’t say enough about her.

King considers Title IX to be one of the most important pieces of legislation of the 20e Century.

“The 37 words of Title IX prohibit sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding,” King said. are my heroes and my hero.

There is, King will tell you (if you give him any opening), more to do.

According to a recent study by the Women’s Sports Foundation, women make up nearly 60% of the college population, but only 43% of college athletic opportunities. At this year’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, male winner Novak Djokovic received $882,296, compared to $412,002 for female winner Iga Swiatek. And then there are those night matches at Roland Garros. Only one of the 10 sessions featured a women’s match, France’s Alize Cornet’s win over 2017 Roland-Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko.

“You have to understand that and you want to give both genders an equal chance,” King said of primetime games. “Always. They should have the same number of women’s games as men’s.

“If we continue to treat each other like second-class citizens, we will remain second-class citizens.”

In other words, we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.