Monday, September 23, 2013

40th Anniversary of 'The Battle Of The Sexes' Tennis Match

There was a huge tennis match that took place in my hometown on September 20, 1973 that had major implications for women's sports. 

40 years ago Billie Jean King in front of what is still the largest crowd to ever witness a tennis match in the United States, beat 55 year old Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome in front of 30, 472 people and a worldwide television audience of 90 million people. (50 million in the US who watched the ABC-TV broadcast with Howard Cosell as the lead announcer). 

Unfortunately the broadcast was blacked out here in Houston at the time and I had to see the tape delay later.   

What led up to this seriously hyped tennis match was Bobby Riggs flapping his gums and denigrating the game of women's tennis.   He claimed it was inferior to the men's game (oink, oink), his 55 year old self could beat the top ranked women's player in the world and challenged Billie Jean King to a match. 

When the then 29 year old King declined to take him on, then 30 year old Australian Margaret Court, the top ranked women's player at the time accepted the challenge.  They played the US televised match on May 13, 1973 (which happened to be Mother's Day) in Ramona, CA.  Riggs used lobs and drop shots to keep Court off balance and beat her in straight sets 6-2, 6-1.

It's also alleged that Court considered the match an exhibition and didn't take it seriously, but the male dominated media sure did. .The win over Margaret Court got Riggs on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time magazines and he resumed his male chauvinist taunting of all female tennis players.  

After founding the Women's Tennis Association in June, King accepted a lucrative offer to play a winner take all best three of five set nationally televised match at the Astrodome that was dubbed by promoters as 'The Battle of The Sexes'.

And yes, the young TransGriot took the opportunity to put her allowance where her mouth in terms of my belief that King would win.  I made a few bets with my skeptical male classmates who believed Riggs' hype. 
On that September night before the match started King entered the Dome Cleopatra-style carried by four bodybuilders and Riggs followed in a rickshaw pulled by scantily clad models. The exchanged gifts, with Riggs giving her a large Sugar Daddy sucker and King presenting him with a piglet before they began playing the  match.

King had also prepared herself to counter the drop shot tactics Riggs used to great effect against Court.

Instead of her usual aggressive style of play, she stayed at the baseline and gave Riggs a taste of his own tennis medicine. She made him run all over the court and forced him to change tactics to a serve and volley style of game. 

King beat him in straight sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 to claim the $100,000 prize for winning the match and defended the honor of professional women's tennis players everywhere.  

And the next day at school I collected the money I won with Billie Jean King's victory

King's win in addition to being profitable for teenage me also gave women's tennis the critical early credibility it needed and has used to grow the sport.   Women's tennis grew from that point to eventually garner its own television contracts and see women players like King, Chris Evert and countless others earning six and seven figure amounts in prize money.  They later won the battle to secure equal prize money for female tennis players.

And that happened in the wake of a tennis match played at the Astrodome. 

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