The women’s liberation movement was beginning and on May 13, 1973, tennis stars Bobby Riggs and Margaret Court faced off in a $10,000 winner-take-all challenge match. Bobby Riggs was 55-years-old and a tennis champion from the late 1930s and 40s.  He was known to be skeptical of women’s talents on the tennis court. The event was branded the “battle of the sexes.”   It was Mother’s Day and the match was televised internationally.  It was held on Riggs’ home turf, the San Vincente Country Club in Ramona, California, northeast of San Diego and proceeds were promised to the American Diabetes Association.
Bobby Riggs vs. Margaret Court

Bobby Riggs vs. Margaret Court

Bobby Riggs had originally proposed a male-female match-up to Billie Jean King, whom he dubbed the “leading women’s libber of tennis.” King ignored the offer, but Australian Margaret Court, who had won 89 of her last 92 matches and was the leading money-winner on the women’s professional tour, accepted. Leading up to the match, Riggs loudly and consistently belittled women’s tennis and its players to the media while Court, occupied with raising her one-year-old son, said little.

Court was a serve-and volley player, known for her tough play at the net. By contrast, Riggs was a baseliner, and it later became known that he had the court resurfaced to slow the game, giving him time to wind up and put more power into his stroke. (What an upstanding guy 😦 ) The slow surface immediately put Court at a disadvantage. Riggs lobbed Court’s shots back to her, breaking the rhythm she was accustomed to on the hard-hitting women’s tour. Rattled, she lost the match, 6-2, 6-1.

Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in the leadup to the Battle of the Sexes.

Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in the leadup to the Battle of the Sexes.

I had never heard of the first Battle of the Sexes but what came next I do remember.  The moment the match ended, Riggs again challenged Billie Jean King. She accepted, and their $100,000 winner-take-all match—dubbed by some “the libber vs. the lobber”—took place on September 20, 1973, in front of a sold-out Houston Astrodome crowd. The 29-year-old King prevailed, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. At a news conference after the match, Riggs explained the loss: “She was too good, too fast. She returned all my passing shots and made great plays off them… I was trying to play my game, but I couldn’t.”

After Riggs’ death at age 77 in 1995, King complimented her formal rival and his probably accidental contribution to the advancement of sexual equality: “Our ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match helped to advance the game of tennis and women everywhere.”

Advertisements

5 responses

  1. I was 12-13 when all of this took place. I remember it being all over the place and people everywhere talking about it. But it didn’t mean much to me then. I suppose that is why I didn’t remember the contest with Ms.Court.
    I can’t think of anything that at least some women can’t do better than at least some men.
    Life & Faith in Caneyhead

    Like

  2. Jo Wake says:

    Seems like his first match was unfair then. Despite his thoughts that women were not so good, he madde sure he has the advantage.

    Like

  3. a gray says:

    Yes, it was a great event. The promoters made lots of money, the press had something to talk about for weeks other than Vietnam, few worried about increasing inflation at the gas pump and in the food stores, etc. Yes, it was great fun, and it gave everyone something to talk about.

    Like

  4. Birgit says:

    You know I remember this in my little mind and even back then, I thought Riggs was an idiot. he was all bravado and I was happy when I heard King kicked his whiny little ass.

    Like