ON THIS DATE IN HISTORY September 20, 1973: Billie Jean King BEATS Bobby Riggs

Billie Jean King won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, 16 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles, and 11 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, she was the first woman in professional tennis to make over $100,000 a year and she founded the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation, but she is best remembered for her performance on the court at the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973. There, she redeemed sports women everywhere when she BEAT self-avowed male chauvinist pig – Bobby Riggs in three straight sets – 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Vegas had 8-5 odds on Riggs beating King, which was not too surprising since Riggs had already beaten the number one female tennis player in the world – Margaret Court on May 13th of that same year. After the win, the 55 year-old Riggs made the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time.   King knew what she had to do – beat him or allow all women to suffer from Court’s defeat.

Riggs was at the top of his game in 1939 at the age of 16. To reinvent himself, he went after the burgeoning women’s movement of the seventies and he enjoyed every minute of it. After beating Court he affirmed – “Now I want King bad. I’ll play her on clay, grass, wood, cement, marble or roller skates.”

In 1973, women tennis players were struggling for value.  Prior to the match, in 1970, several championship players threatened a boycott if prize money was not increased according to mens’ prizes.  The United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) turned a deaf ear, motivating nine women- Billie Jean King, Rosemary Casals, Nancy Richey, Kerry Melville Reid, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Judy Tegart Dalton, Valerie Ziegenfuss and Julie Heldman to sign $1 contracts with Gladys Heldman of World Tennis publications.    Heldman helped to organize the 19 tournaments that became part of the Virginia Slims Circuit with Virginia Slims’ providing financial backing.  The inaugural tournament was played on September 23 1970.

When the King/Riggs match was set Riggs spent time in front of every news camera and microphone he could find – “Women play about 25 percent as good as men.” “Women belong in the bedroom and kitchen, in that order.” “Women who can, do. Those who can’t become feminists.” source: Inhistoric, the sports history blog.

King dominated the game from the beginning, stomping Riggs in straight sets, as she made he work for the returns.

“Riggs and King became friends off the court after the Battle of the Sexes. In 1995, Riggs talked to King only a few days before he died of prostate cancer. “One of the last things he said to me was, ‘We really made a difference, didn’t we?’ King recalled. ‘He understood the significance.’ – source: Inhistoric, the sports history blog.

<font size=”1″>Photo courtesy of David Shankbone</font size>