Bobby Riggs Vs. Billie Jean King

In 1973 Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in three straight sets after he challenged her to a match where he boasted of his superior male attributes.

At a time when women's tennis was not as prestigious as men's, the challenge from tennis champion Bobby Riggs to tennis champion Billie Jean King came to mean much more than a game of tennis. Amidst much media hype and many boasts from the challenger, the match came to be called "The Battle Of The Sexes".

Bobby Riggs was a world champion tennis player in 1939 at the young age of sixteen, but his star had faded by the 1950s and his accomplishments were eclipsed by his famous loss to female world tennis champion, Billie Jean King, in a match through which he intended to prove that men were better athletes.

Riggs was fifty-five in 1973. He was at the end of his career, but took every chance he could to proclaim that women could never be the players men were, they were simply too weak- and they were just women.

Riggs played and beat a champion tennis player named Margaret Court on Mother's Day 1973, and immediately challenged Billie Jean King saying, "I want Billie Jean King. . . . I want the women's lib leader!" Riggs boasted loudly that even the much younger Billie Jean King, at age twenty-nine, was no match for him, by mere virtue of his manhood.

At the height of the women's rights movement, he was a perfect whipping boy for women's rights advocates, making a sexist spectacle of himself at every turn. He wore a tee-shirt that said 'Men's Liberation' and said if he was going to be a male chauvinist pig, he was going to be the number one male chauvinist pig. Rosie Casals, a tennis colleague of King's who would be a commentator at the big match said Riggs was "an old man who walks like a duck, can't see, can't hear and besides, he's an idiot."

It was a sore spot with Billie Jean King and other women professional sports players that women were paid much more poorly than men. She had won 20 titles at Wimbledon and organized the Women's Tennis Association, a union of women players that improved their bargaining positions. King became the first woman to make more than $100,000 a year in tennis. She was the Associated Press's Woman Athlete of the Year in 1967 and 1973. She was Sports Illustrated's Sportswoman of the Year in 1972. She was Time Magazine's Woman of the Year in 1976. Not sportswoman- all around woman!



The match was held at the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973. It drew the largest ever live audience for a tennis match and got prime time TV coverage. 30,472 spectators filled the stadium and an estimated 50 million viewers watched on television. Riggs egged on the crowd by entering the stadium in a carriage pulled by women. Billie Jean King rode in on a red velvet litter carried by University of Houston football players in short togas. But when they hit the courts, the players were all business.

Riggs did his best to finesse the ball, hitting lobs, drop shots and spins. In one of the most talked about events in United States sports history, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in three straight sets of tennis by wearing him down with long rallies. The scores were 6-4, 6-3, and 6-3. After the game he graciously said, "She was too good, too fast. She returned all my passing shots and made great plays off them."

In 1985 Riggs took another shot at beating women at tennis, when he and Vitas Gerulaitis lost a doubles match to Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver. But Riggs loved the excitement and the game.

Riggs was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1988. He formed the Bobby Riggs Tennis Foundation in 1994 to promote prostate cancer awareness. He died of prostate cancer at the age of seventy-seven on October 27, 1995.

Upon hearing of his death, Rosie Casals said, "For a male chauvinist, he did a lot of good for us. We'll always remember him in the best possible way. I always said he did the most for women's tennis."

Ironically, Riggs and King remained friends throughout all the hype and beyond. "Bobby Riggs was a true friend for the last twenty-five years," she said after hearing of his death. In reference to the famous match she said, "It helped a lot of people realize that everyone can have skills whether you are a man or woman... as well as helping men and women understand each other."

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