September 20, 1973, would see women achieve new status in the sports world after Billie Jean King won the famous three sets against Bobby Riggs. The match that was witnessed by more than 90 million people from all over the world attracted attention not just from tennis fans but the general public. As the term suggests, this was viewed as a battle of sexes as a woman took to stage to prove her worth in the world of tennis. This was part of a bigger rivalry that has existed for decades where women were seen as lesser beings.
The Widely Celebrated Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King early age revolved around sports and what people did not know was that she had tried several sports before settling for tennis when she was in her fifth grade. She first tried basketball but later at the age of 10 years turned to softball where she won the U14 championship.
2nd July 1964: American tennis player Billie Jean Moffitt (later King) in action during a semi-final in the women’s singles championship at Wimbledon. (Photo by Dennis Oulds/Central Press/Getty Images)
She was first introduced to tennis by her friend Susan Williams which marked the begging of her career as we know it today. In her career, she won many awards, but she became a favorite for many after she won the famous ‘battle for the sexes.’
The American Tennis Champion Bobby Riggs
The Los Angeles star, Bobby Riggs, was born in 1981 and is known to be the world’s greatest amateur tennis player. He is celebrated by many and especially for his flexibility by the fact that he could play singles, doubles, and mixed doubles.
American tennis player Bobby Riggs at Wimbledon, where he beat fellow American Elwood Cooke to win the men’s singles title. (Photo by Hudson/Getty Images)
He is famous to the world for losing the famous ‘battle of the sexes’ where he lost all three sets to King. He started playing tennis at the age of 11 years and won several junior titles. He was a great player and at some point claimed he won $100,000 after betting that he would win all three sets in men’s singles.
The Famous ‘Battle of the Sexes’ of 1973
This famous tennis match was held at the Huston Astrodome in 1973. The match was between Bobby Riggs against Billie Jean who was then 55 and 29 years old respectively. The 29-year-old King won the match after he bet her opponent three sets to none.
Bobby Riggs flexes his biceps in an attempt to intimidate Billie Jean King. The two played against each other September 20, 1973. King won the match in straight sets.
Due to the massive attention attracted to the match, the organizing committee sort to pick top ranking players who had already established themselves in the world of tennis. Riggs had just retired from professional tennis but still claimed that he would beat any female player who was top of the table. King was later approached by a promoter who awarded her some good cash to accept the challenge. The winner would be awarded $100,000 approximated to be $551,000 in today’s currency.
The Humble Bobby Riggs
There would have been nothing unique about this game, but it is widely celebrated because of the events that triggered the match. The proud Riggs had just declared war on all top female tennis player by claiming that none would beat him on a one-on-one match with him despite his age.
Former tennis great Bobby Riggs and top female tennis player Billie Jean King arm wrestle at a press conference, where they announced they’ll face each other in a $100,000 winner-take-all tennis match. Billy Jean went on to defeat Riggs, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
He at first seemed to mean business when he won against Margaret Court who was among the best female tennis player the world had ever seen. Before the game started, King awarded Riggs with a squealing piglet which according to many symbolized male chauvinism. King had earlier in that week won several friendly games, and many celebrated him than before. After the match, Riggs was humiliated and remained behind the scenes for the rest of his life. There was very little heard from him, and he chose to spend his retirement time from the public eye.
The Turning Point after King’s Victory
This game was not viewed by many as a professional match but rather as a fight by women to raise their status in the sports world. Even the sponsors of this widely celebrated event had different agendas. Some wanted to prove that women were inferior and could not attain the set professional status.
(Original Caption) Tennis pros Billie Jean King, (L), and Bobby Riggs, (R), show there are no hard feelings here with a kiss during a news conference following a $100,000 winner-take-all tennis match in which Mrs. King beat Riggs in 3 straight sets.
The humbled lot who were against male chauvinism wanted recognition at equal attention as men. King’s victory impressed many and to some extent bridged the gap between men and women especially in the world of sports. The women’s liberation movements had drawn a different baseline and saw this as a talking point to push for gender equity. King herself said in an interview that losing that match would take women 50 years back.
The Critics View King’s Victory
Up to date, many people feel that age was a determining factor in that match and the results would have been different in Riggs was 35 years of age or below. It was not a matter of preparation or who can play smart, but age versus youth was the idea behind King’s celebrated victory.
Tennis pro Billie Jean King shows her winning style while beating Bobby Riggs in their $100,000 winner-take-all match in the Astrodome. Mrs. King beat the 55-year-old Riggs in 3-straight sets. Photo shows Mrs. King running down a ball while preparing to hit a slice backhand.
Riggs also feels that there was a problem in the manner in which the match officials made some decisions. Other people think that Riggs had bet against himself and played poorly so that he could win some cash to pay his bet debts. Even with all these allegations, King still feels that he won the game fairly.
Battle of the Sexes’ Decoys
Riggs had earlier in 1973 played against Margaret Court just four months before King set the record straight. Riggs won the match after beating Court all three sets. This was the first famous game of the sexes and intensified the rivalry between male and female players. ‘The battle of champions’ played Jimmy Connors against Martina Navratilova in 1992 again favored the women.
Emma Stone and Billie Jean King attend the ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ European Premiere during the 61st BFI London Film Festival at Odeon Leicester Square on October 7, 2017, in London, England. (Photo by Joe Maher/FilmMagic)
There have been several other games played by notable female tennis players against male champions ever since. More than eight exhibition matches dubbed as ‘battle of the sexes’ and they include; the 1888 game between Lottie Vs. Ernest Renshaw, in 1922 Bill Tilden played against Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills Vs. Phil Neer in 1933 before the famous challenges of the sexes in 1975. The challenge was played in 1985 which involves doubles.
Other notable games include the match between Williams sisters Vs. Karsten Braasch in 1998, Justine Henin against Yannick Noah in 2003 and the latest was held in 2013 between Li Na Vs. Novak Djokovic.