Open honours King as Court steers clear

Ben McKay

With a nod to tennis' status as one of the most progressive in sport, Billie Jean King will be honoured at this year's Australian Open - as Margaret Court stays away.

King, with two Australian Open crowns among her 12 major titles, landed on Thursday in Melbourne.

The trailblazing American will be invited to present the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup to the 2018 champion at Melbourne Park.

And until then, she'll be feted as the tournament's woman of the year - on the 50th anniversary of her first Open title.

No bones about it - King is being honoured for her advocacy.

The 74-year-old American is one of the pioneers of the WTA tour and a driver of the women enjoying equal billing with men in the sport.

The Australian Open sees itself on the right side of history, having introducing equal prize money in 1984.

King, who is openly gay, will be involved in a number of public events including a human rights symposium on semi-final day, January 25.

Tournament director Craig Tiley said King deserved her many accolades.

"Her tireless work for equality transcends her reputation as a sporting legend," he said.

Tiley also extended an invitation to Court, the 11-time champion, to the tournament but the 75-year-old opted to stay in Perth and "go crabbing".

The rebranding of a show court as 'Margaret Court Arena' has brought to attention the West Australian fundamentalist's Christian views on same-sex parenting, and LGBTI rights.

The popularly supported legalisation of same-sex marriage through parliament late last year could mean protests against that court from the public or players during the 2018 tournament.

Court's non-appearance at the Open - which overlaps Melbourne's annual queer festival Midsumma - is likely to lessen the likelihood of demonstrations.