Who Was Bobby Riggs?

Bobby Riggs stole the show on the tennis circuit in the 1930s and 1940s, but is probably best known for the disparaging remarks he made about women--ultimately, embarrassing him in front of millions.

Robert Larimore Riggs was born in Los Angeles February 25, 1918.

By age 12, Bobby was playing tennis seriously, taking daily instruction from coaches Eleanor Tennant and Dr. Esther Bartosh. In 1934, at just 16, Riggs won his first major tournament, beating Frank Shields, a Wimbleton finalist.

At 18, Riggs was ranked fourth in the U.S. Still playing as an amateur, Bobby helped the U.S. win the Davis Cup in 1938. The following year, he would go on to win Wimbleton and U.S. singles titles. At the age of 21, Bobby Riggs would rank as the number one tennis player in the world and the fastest rising star that tennis had ever seen.

Ranked as the best tennis player in the world, Riggs left the amateur circuit in 1941, and turned professional. For the next ten years, Riggs would establish himself as one of the finest athletes to ever grace the courts. Bobby Riggs won the national professional singles championships in 1946, 1947, and 1949. Riggs also put pen to paper during the 1940s and began writing a book. In 1949, his tennis autobiography, "Tennis Is My Racquet" was published.

Retiring after ten years on the circuit, Bobby Riggs settled into his personal life in 1951. He would play in a few minor senior events, but never returned to the game full time. Still, Riggs had a history that could not be ignored. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI in 1951. Riggs, meanwhile, threw himself into a variety of promotional endeavors, and never seemed far from the spotlight.

Despite his admiral career on the courts, Riggs is probably best known for the disparaging remarks he made during women's tennis competitions. Branded a "chauvinist pig," after claiming that "any half-decent male player could defeat even the best female players," he came out of retirement to challenge Margaret Smith Court, a leading women's player, to a winner-take-all match on national television. Riggs easily defeated a psyched-out Court in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1. Riggs continued to press his point with the media and eventually proposed the same challenge to Billie Jean King. Touted as the "Battle of the Sexes," Riggs took to the court in September of 1973, at the age of 55. Promising a victory, Riggs and King battled it out before a record crowd of 30,472 spectators at the Houston (Texas) Astrodome. The television audience was said to exceed some 50 million viewers. The winner of the match would take home $100,000 in cash. Much to his dismay, King won all three sets, and consequently helped to elevate women's tennis to its current status.

No stranger to promotion and very much a self-labeled gambler, Riggs took another go of throwing his name back into the books in 1985. Teaming up with Vitas Gerulaitis to challenge the women's doubles team of Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver, 67 year old Riggs headed back to the courts. Once again, the women triumphed.

In 1988, long out of the spotlight, Bobby Riggs was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Realizing that the world knew little of his disease, Riggs chose to share his diagnosis with the world in 1994, during the induction of the Bobby Riggs Tennis Museum Foundation. He would spend the last year of his life educating men and women about the disease.

Bobby Riggs died of prostate cancer in October of 1995, at his home in Leucadia, California. He was 77. Riggs, who was married twice, was survived by five children.

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