For those surprised by the continued scarcity of U.S. players among the top seeds at Wimbledon and other Grand Slam tournaments, Billie Jean King, in town last week to promote World Team Tennis and say goodbye to the soon-to-be-closed Wachovia Spectrum, said: "Welcome to reality."

Things have changed dramatically since the 1970s, when King was at the height of her game, and early 1980s. Those were the days when players such as King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors led a deep list of triumphant American players.

Today, the men's and women's Grand Slam draws are filled with seeded players from Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

"When I was playing, I didn't have to worry much about that," said King, 65, who captured six Wimbledon titles, the last in 1975. "Now, if I'm a player, there are great players from so many countries."

On the men's side at Wimbledon, which begins today, Andy Roddick, James Blake, and Mardy Fish are the only Americans seeded among the top 30. Roddick, with his 2003 U.S. Open title, was the last to have a Grand Slam triumph.

The last American to win at Wimbledon? Pete Sampras in 2000.

For the women, the pickings get slim - real slim - after Serena and Venus Williams, the second and third seeds, respectively. There are no other U.S. women among the top 30 seeds.

Of course, with Venus Williams, there is an odds-on shot for an American to leave the All England Club with a first-place trophy. Centre Court is like her second home. She has won three of the last four Wimbledon titles and five overall.

Outside of Roddick, the dominant players on the men's tour include Swiss dynamo Roger Federer; Spain's Rafael Nadal, who had to withdraw from this year's Wimbledon because of achy knees; Britain's Andy Murray; Serbia's Novak Djokovic; and Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro.

There are four other Spaniards among Wimbledon's top 25 men's seeds: Fernando Verdasco, Tommy Robredo, David Ferrer, and Feliciano Lopez. France has three players among the top 15 in Gilles Simon, fan favorite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Gael Monfils, who has withdrawn.

If either Venus or Serena Williams isn't playing at peak level over the next fortnight, one of six Russians among the top 25, starting with top-seeded Dinara Safina, could emerge victorious.

Combined, Russia and Serbia have seven of the top 13 seeds. Another Russian, Maria Sharapova, the 22-year-old glamour girl and 2004 Wimbledon champion, is seeded 24th.

If the motivated-as-ever King gets her way, the landscape in pro tennis will soon change. That, she said, has to begin with more U.S. children, particularly those 6 to 10 years old, playing the sport.

"We have to suck it up and get going," she said. "We need to make tennis the No. 1 sport for younger kids. We need to show them that playing tennis has great benefits, emotionally and physically."

As elite Serbian players such as Djokovic, Jelena Jankovic, and Ana Ivanovic have realized, tennis holds a different status in their country than it does in the United States. Two years ago, after all three reached the semifinals of the French Open, 15,000 Serbs flocked to Nikola Pasic Square in Belgrade to welcome them home.

King, owner of 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles, and mixed-doubles crowns, asked rhetorically, "Do you think that would happen in Philadelphia?"

King believes that World Team Tennis, her baby since 1974, aids in gaining the sport more exposure and allowing children closer access to stars such as Venus Williams, who will play three matches this season for the Philadelphia Freedoms. Her home appearance is scheduled for July 8.

The Freedoms have a possible future Grand Slam champion in Madison Keys, a 14-year-old American. Two months ago, the Chicago native upset Russia's Alla Kudryavtseva, then ranked 81st in the world, in straight sets in the first round of the MPS Group Championships in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

"We have hungry kids here in the United States, and we're trying to get more," King said. "We're trying to develop a champion from this country."

Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019 or robrien@phillynews.com.