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On May 13, 1973, during the early years of the women’s liberation movement, tennis stars Bobby Riggs and Margaret Court face off in a $10,000 winner-take-all challenge match. The 55-year-old Riggs, a tennis champion from the late 1930s and '40s who was notoriously skeptical of women’s talents on the tennis court, branded the contest a “battle of the sexes.” The match, which was played on Mother’s Day and televised internationally, was held on Riggs’ home turf, the San Vincente Country Club in Ramona, California, northeast of San Diego. Proceeds were promised to the American Diabetes Association.
READ MORE: 7 Women Who Broke Down Barriers in Sports
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. 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.
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 former rival and his probably accidental contribution to the advancement of gender equality: “Our ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match helped to advance the game of tennis and women everywhere.”
READ MORE: When Billie Beat Bobby
The Real Reason Billie Jean King Beat Bobby Riggs Has Nothing To Do With Tennis
According to the legend herself, the reason Billy Jean King won the infamous Battle of Sexes tennis match in 1973 actually has nothing to do with the sport itself. Then 29, King beat 55-year-old former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs in three sets. The famed showdown, which was televised and viewed by more than 90 million people, was prompted by Riggs, a self-proclaimed male chauvinist, in an attempt to squash the feminist discourse of the time. If he could beat King, he reasoned, it would prove that a woman's place was in the kitchen and the bedroom — not the tennis court (or anywhere else, for that matter.) With this heated clash of ideals having been brought to life in 2017's Battle of the Sexes starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, the woman who beat Riggs on the court so many decades ago claims it wasn't her physical skill alone that contributed to conquering her contender.
Sitting down with King at the W hotel in Los Angeles, the legendary player, now 73, recalls the moment she beat Riggs as if it was yesterday. She sits on the edge of the couch, wearing a structured red blazer, bright red lipstick, and a single strand of pearls around her neck, in a look that is almost presidential.
"I loved Bobby, he was one of my heroes," she says, admitting that she was actually a huge fan of her opponent before — and during — their widely publicized brawl. "I wanted him to be appreciated, but the reason I beat him is because I respected him. My dad always said, 'Always respect your opponent, even if you don't like them.' Never, ever underestimate your opponent — ever."
While King was clearly opposed to every degrading sentiment that came out of Riggs' mouth, she was able to respect his abilities as an athlete, his endurance, and his impressive track record. Unfortunately, Riggs couldn't say the same for King, and the 1973 champion attributes that lack of respect to her ultimate win.
"After [I won], he jumped the net and said, 'I underestimated you.' I couldn't believe it," she says, shaking her head. "Respect always wins, because you can put your head on your pillow at night and know you did the right thing."
Riggs' utter lack of respect for his opponent speaks to a larger cultural conflict women continue to face even now. Women make 79 cents on every dollar earned by men, they make up only 17 percent of board members, and only 20 percent of Congress. Not to mention, between one-fifth and one-half of female veterans were sexually harassed while on active duty, and the list of injustices and inequalities tragically goes on and on. This blatant lack of consideration persists in many arenas of culture today, nearly 45 years after King crushed her misogynistic challenger on the court. Because of this, King stresses the need for women to, first and foremost, respect themselves. This means asking for more money, yes, but also asking for other needs, too.
"Women are taught not to ask for what they want, but we need to. Think about it, really visualize yourself doing it, and don't care what the answer is," she says. "If there's a 'no,' there's another opportunity some other place. Keep going. Ask for what you want and need. Do your homework. Most CEOs are men, so we have to convince them to give us what we want."
And according to the activist, most sports writers at the time of her match were men, too. Because of this, she developed a way in which to speak to press conferences full of men that would show them that she both respected and understood them.
"In my day, if you use the word 'feminist,' a lot of people get turned off immediately, so I really had to walk a tightrope," she says.
In order to get her ideas about equality heard, she would have a conversation about what the word "feminist" meant with the male-heavy room.
"I'd say, 'Before we start, let's get real clear what things mean. if I use the word feminist, this is what it means to me. It means equal rights and opportunities for everybody, men and women. We don't hate men,'" she says. "I had to go through this educational process."
But strangely, and sadly, the conversation surrounding the word "feminist" hasn't changed all that much. Even though we know the word simply means equality, according to Forbes writer Kathy Caprino, "There are thousands who believe in equal rights but find 'feminism' a word and a movement that doesn’t align with their personal beliefs or values." King struggled to popularize the term at the time, and women still face this same difficulty decades later.
But this is only one struggle when it comes to equality as a whole. Women have hurdles to face within themselves, too, such as learning self-love. King laments the constant bombardment of images that may make women and girls feel bad about their bodies.
"Look at the commercials on TV," she says. "They're horrible. They say, 'I lost 50 pounds, and I feel more sexy,' but if your self-esteem is reliant on that, you're in trouble."
Of course, self-love is, sadly, easier said than done. For King, this shift in thinking can be accomplished by loving and supporting other women. "We have to keep reinforcing each other, and then men have to reinforce us, too," she says.
And King puts her money where her mouth is, having started more than one organization that seeks to empower and aid her fellow women. The Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative and the Women's Sports Foundation both aim to give resources to help women and girls achieve power and fulfillment as leaders and in sports teams.
King may have won the Battle of the Sexes in 1973, but it's clear that there are still many battles yet to be won on behalf of women everywhere — on and off the court. Because the real reason Billie Jean King won the fabled match had nothing to do with the sport of tennis — and neither did the reason she chose to take on Riggs in the first place.
Junior career Edit
Born and raised in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, Riggs was one of six children of Agnes (Jones) and Gideon Wright Riggs, a minister.  He was an excellent table tennis player as a boy and when he began playing tennis at age twelve,  he was quickly befriended and then coached by Esther Bartosh, who was the third-ranking woman player in Los Angeles. Depending entirely on speed and ball control, he soon began to win boys (through 15 years old) and then juniors (through 18 years old) tournaments. Although it is sometimes said that Riggs was one of the great tennis players nurtured at the Los Angeles Tennis Club by Perry T. Jones and the Southern California Tennis Association, Riggs writes in his autobiography that for many years Jones considered Riggs to be too small and not powerful enough to be a top-flight player. (Jack Kramer, however, said in his own autobiography that Jones turned against Riggs "for being a kid hustler".)  : 21 After initially helping Riggs, Jones then refused to sponsor him at the important Eastern tournaments. With the help of Bartosh and others, Riggs played in various National Tournaments and by the time he was 16 was the fifth-ranked junior player in the United States. The next year he won his first National Championship, winning the National Juniors by beating Joe Hunt in the finals. That same year, 1935, he met Hunt in 17 final-round matches and won all 17 of them. He went undefeated for four years of play at Franklin High School (Los Angeles) in the Highland Park, Los Angeles neighborhood and was the first person to win California's state high school singles trophy three times.  In 1934–36, he won the men's singles in the Ojai Tennis Tournament. 
At 18, Riggs was still a junior but won the Southern California Men's Title and then went East to play on the grass-court circuit in spite of Jones's opposition. Along the way he won the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships in Chicago, beating Frank Parker in the finals with drop shots and lobs. Although he had never played on grass courts before, Riggs won two tournaments and reached the finals of two others. Although still a junior, he ended the year ranked fourth in the United States Men's Rankings. Kramer, who was three years younger than Riggs, writes "I played Riggs a lot then at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. He liked me personally too, but he'd never give me a break. For as long as he possibly could, he would beat me at love . Bobby was always looking down the road. 'I want you to know who's the boss, for the rest of your life, Kid,' he told me. Bobby Riggs was always candid."  : 31
Playing style Edit
Small in stature, he lacked the overall power of his larger competitors such as Don Budge and Kramer but made up for it with brains, ball control, and speed. A master court strategist and tactician, he worked his opponent out of position and scored points with the game's best drop shot and lob as well as punishing ground strokes that let him come to the net for put-away shots. Kramer, one of the very few players who was undeniably better than Riggs, writes that there is a major "misconception" about Riggs. "He didn't play some rinky-dink Harold Solomon style, pitty-pattying the ball around on dirt. He didn't have the big serve, but he made up for it with some sneaky first serves and as fine a second serve as I had seen at that time. When you talk about depth and accuracy both, Riggs' second serve ranks with the other three best that I ever saw: von Cramm's, Gonzales's, and Newcombe's." In his autobiography, Riggs wrote, "In the 1946 match with Budge [for the United States Pro Championship], I charged the net at every opportunity. Employing what I called my secret weapon, a hard first serve, I attacked constantly during my 6–3, 6–1, 6–1 victory."
"Riggs," said Kramer, "was a great champion. He beat Segura. He beat Budge when Don was just a little bit past his peak. On a long tour, as up and down as Vines was, I'm not so sure that Riggs wouldn't have played Elly very close. I'm sure he would have beaten Gonzales — Bobby was too quick, he had too much control for Pancho — and Laver and Rosewall and Hoad."
Kramer went on to say that Riggs "could keep the ball in play, and he could find ways to control the bigger, more powerful opponent. He could pin you back by hitting long, down the lines, and then he'd run you ragged with chips and drop shots. He was outstanding with a volley from either side, and he could lob as well as any man . he could also lob on the run. He could disguise it, and he could hit winning overheads. They weren't powerful, but they were always on target."
Amateur career Edit
As a 20-year-old amateur, Riggs was part of the American Davis Cup winning team in 1938. The following year, 1939, he made it to the finals of the French Championships but then won the Wimbledon Championships triple, capturing the singles,  the doubles with Elwood Cooke, and mixed doubles with Alice Marble, who also won all three titles.  Riggs won $100,000 betting on the triple win, then went on to win the U.S. Championships, earning the world No. 1 amateur ranking for 1939. Riggs won four consecutive singles titles at the Eastern Grass Court Championships between 1937 and 1940. He teamed up with Alice Marble, his Wimbledon co-champion, to win the 1940 U.S. Championships mixed doubles title. In 1941, he won his second U.S. Championships singles title, following which he turned professional. His new career, however, was quickly interrupted by military service during World War II as an enlisted Navy specialist.   During his military service, Riggs was a cornerstone member of the 1945 league champion 14th Naval District Navy Yard Tennis Team.
Professional career Edit
After the war, as a professional, Riggs won the US Pro titles in 1946, 1947, and 1949, beating Don Budge in all three finals. In the 1946 head-to-head tour against Budge, Riggs won 24 matches and lost 22, plus 1 match tied at Birmingham, Alabama establishing himself as the best player in the world.  Budge had sustained an injury to his right shoulder in a military training exercise during the war and had never fully recovered his earlier flexibility. Now, in 1946, according to Kramer, "Bobby played to Budge's shoulder, lobbed him to death, won the first twelve matches, thirteen out of the first fourteen, and then hung on to beat Budge, twenty-four matches to twenty-two."
There was a series of 18 professional tournaments in 1946 from Memphis on June 11 to Los Angeles on November 17, which included the major professional tournaments at Forest Hills and elsewhere.  The series awarded points to players based on their finish in each tournament. Riggs finished first in the tournament series with 278 points, then Budge (164 points), Kovacs (149 points), Van Horn (143 points), Earn (94 points), Sabin (74 points), Faunce (68 points), Jossi (60 points), Perry (50 points). This would be the first reported major professional tennis championship tournament series, and not repeated until 1959, 1960, and then 1964–68. Riggs would refer to this tournament series as the proof of his world professional tennis ranking status at No. 1.
Kramer had a sensational year in 1947 as an amateur. Riggs and Kramer met three times at the end of December 1947 on fast indoor courts Riggs won two of these matches.
The promoter of the 1946 Riggs-Budge tour was Jack Harris. In mid-1947, he had already made a deal with Kramer that he would turn professional after the U.S. Championships, regardless of whether he was the winner. He also told Riggs and Budge that the winner of the Professional American Singles Championship, to be held at Forest Hills, would establish the World Champion who would defend his title against Kramer. Riggs was upset, believing that he had already established his right to be the defending world champion in a tour against Kramer. For the second year in a row, Riggs defeated Budge in the Forest Hills final, this time in a close five set match. Harris signed Kramer for 35 percent of the gross receipts and offered 20 percent to Riggs. He then changed his mind, as Riggs recounted in his autobiography, "saying he could get Ted Schroeder as one of the supporting pair, provided both Kramer and I would yield 2½ percent of our shares in order to build up the offer to Ted. We both agreed — and then Schroeder refused." Harris then signed Pancho Segura and Dinny Pails at $300 ($3,480 today) per week to play the opening match of the Riggs-Kramer tour. Riggs then went on to play Kramer for 17½ percent of the gross receipts.  : 16
On December 26, 1947, Kramer and Riggs embarked on their long tour, beginning with an easy victory by Riggs in front of 15,000 people, who had made their way to Madison Square Garden in New York City in spite of a record snowstorm, that had brought the city to a standstill.   On January 16, 1948, Riggs led 8 matches to 6. At the end of 26 matches, Riggs and Kramer had each won 13. By that point, however, Kramer had stepped up his second serve to take advantage of the fast indoor courts they played on and was now able to keep Riggs from advancing to the net. Kramer had also begun the tour by playing a large part of each match from the baseline. Finally realizing that he could only beat Riggs from the net, he changed his style of game and began coming to the net on every point. Riggs was unable to handle Kramer's overwhelming power game. For the rest of the tour Kramer dominated Riggs mercilessly, winning 56 out of the last 63 matches. The final score was 69 victories for Kramer versus 20 for Riggs, the last time an amateur champion had beaten the reigning professional king on their first tour. In many of the last matches, it was assumed by observers that Riggs frequently gave up after falling behind and let Kramer run out the victory. Riggs says in his autobiography that Kramer had made "nearly a hundred thousand dollars . on the American tour alone, while I took in nearly fifty thousand as my share."  : 25 
In 1951, more than 20 years before he faced Court and King, Riggs played a short series of matches against Pauline Betz. These matches were scheduled for the first match of the evening before Kramer faced Segura in the main World Series contest. The Riggs-Betz matches took place towards the end of the tour (after Betz's opponent Gussie Moran had left the tour).
In spite of still beating the great professionals such as Pancho Segura, Pancho Gonzales, Jack Kramer or Frank Kovacs in the following years, Riggs soon retired from competitive tennis and briefly took over the job of promoting the professional game.
As a senior player in his 60s and 70s, Riggs won numerous national titles within various age groups.
Grand Slam Edit
Singles : 3 titles, 2 runners-up
|Loss||1939||French Championships||Clay||Don McNeill||5–7, 0–6, 3–6|
|Win||1939||Wimbledon||Grass||Elwood Cooke||2–6, 8–6, 3–6, 6–3, 6–2|
|Win||1939||U.S. Championships||Grass||Welby Van Horn||6–4, 6–2, 6–4|
|Loss||1940||U.S. Championships||Grass||Don McNeill||6–4, 8–6, 3–6, 3–6, 5–7|
|Win||1941||U.S. Championships||Grass||Frank Kovacs||5–7, 6–1, 6–3, 6–3|
Pro Slam Edit
Singles : 3 titles, 3 runners-up
|Loss||1942||US Pro||Grass||Don Budge||2–6, 2–6, 2–6|
|Win||1946||US Pro||Grass||Don Budge||6–3, 6–1, 6–1|
|Win||1947||US Pro||Grass||Don Budge||3–6, 6–3, 10–8, 4–6, 6–3|
|Loss||1948||US Pro||Grass||Jack Kramer||12–14, 2–6, 6–3, 3–6|
|Loss||1949||Wembley Pro||Indoor||Jack Kramer||6–2, 4–6, 3–6, 4–6|
|Win||1949||US Pro||Grass||Don Budge||9–7, 3–6, 6–3, 7–5|
Performance timeline Edit
Riggs joined the professional tennis circuit in 1941 and as a consequence was banned from competing in the amateur Grand Slams.
(A*) 1-set matches in preliminary rounds.
|Grand Slam tournaments||3 / 8||40–5||88.9|
|Australian Open||A||A||A||A||A||not held||not eligible||0 / 0||0–0||–|
|French Open||A||A||A||F||not held||not eligible||0 / 1||6–1||85.7|
|Wimbledon||A||A||A||W||not held||not eligible||1 / 1||7–0||100.0|
|US Open||4R||SF||4R||W||F||W||not eligible||2 / 6||27–4||87.1|
|Pro Slam tournaments||3 / 18||36–16||69.2|
|U.S. Pro||A||A||A||A||A||A||F||A||NH||A||W||W||F||W||SF||SF||A||SF||1R||QF||A||QF||QF||QF||A||A*||A*||3 / 13||29–11||72.5|
|French Pro||A||A||A||A||not held||A||NH||A||A||A||A||A||0 / 0||0–0||–|
|Wembley Pro||NH||A||NH||A||not held||F||SF||QF||QF||QF||NH||NH||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||0 / 5||7–5||58.3|
|Win–Loss||2–1||5–1||3–1||19–1||5–1||6–0||4–1||0–0||0–0||0–0||5–0||6–0||4–1||6–1||3–2||3–3||1–1||3–2||0–1||1–1||0–0||0–1||0–1||0–1||0–0||0–0||0–0||6 / 26||76–21||78.4|
Riggs was famous as a hustler and gambler,   when in his 1949 autobiography he wrote that he had made $105,000 ($1,954,000 today) in 1939 by betting, in England, on himself to win all three Wimbledon championships: the singles, doubles and mixed doubles. At the time, most betting was illegal in England. From an initial $500 bet on his chances of winning the singles competition, he eventually won the equivalent of $1.5 million in 2010 dollars. According to Riggs, World War II kept him from taking his winnings out of the country, so that by 1946 after the war had ended, he then had an even larger sum waiting for him in England as it had been increased by interest.
In 1973, Riggs saw an opportunity to both make money and draw attention to the sport of tennis. He came out of retirement to challenge one of the world's greatest female players to a match, claiming that the female game was inferior and that a top female player could not beat him, even at the age of 55. He challenged Margaret Court, 30 years old and the top female player in the world, and they played on May 13, Mother's Day, in Ramona, California. Riggs used his drop shots and lobs to keep Court off balance   his easy 6–2, 6–1 victory in less than an hour landed him on the cover of both Sports Illustrated and Time magazine.   The match was called the "Mother's Day Massacre". 
Riggs had originally challenged Billie Jean King, but she had declined, regarding the challenge as a fatuous gimmick. Following Court's loss to Riggs, King decided to accept his challenge,   and the two met in the Houston Astrodome on prime time television on Thursday, September 20, in a match billed as The Battle of the Sexes.  The oddsmakers and writers favored Riggs  he built an early lead, but King won in straight sets (6–4, 6–3, 6–3) for the $100,000 winner-take-all prize.  
The ESPN program Outside the Lines  made an allegation that Riggs took advantage of the overwhelming odds against King and threw the match to get his debts to the mob erased. The program featured a man who had been silent for 40 years for reasons of self-protection who claimed that he had worked at a country club and heard several members of the mafia talking about Riggs throwing the match in exchange for cancelling his gambling debt to the mob. The program also stated that Riggs' close friend and estate executor Lornie Kuhle vehemently denied Riggs was ever in debt to the mob or received a payoff from them.
In the 2017 film adaptation Battle of the Sexes, Riggs was played by Steve Carell, with Emma Stone as Billie Jean King.  
Riggs was married twice, and had two sons from the first marriage, and three sons and a daughter from the second.  Before he was 21 Riggs dated a fellow tennis player Pauline Betz. Then, at the Illinois state tournament, he met Catherine "Kay" Fischer. They married in early December 1939 in Chicago, and divorced in the early 1950s. 
Riggs met his second wife, Priscilla Wheelan, on the courts of the LaGorce Country Club in Miami. Priscilla came from a wealthy family that owned the prominent America Photograph Corporation based in New York.  They married in September 1952,  divorced in 1971, and remarried in 1991. 
Riggs was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1988. He and Lornie Kuhle founded the Bobby Riggs Tennis Club and Museum in Encinitas, California to increase awareness of the disease and house his memoirs/trophies. Riggs died on October 25, 1995, at his home in Leucadia, Encinitas, California, aged 77. He was survived by two sons from his first marriage, three children from his second marriage, two brothers and four grandchildren.  
In his final days, Riggs remained in friendly contact with Billie Jean King, and King phoned him often. She called him shortly before his death, offering to visit him, but he did not want her to see him in his condition. She phoned him one last time, the night before his death and, according to King in an HBO documentary about her, the last thing she told Riggs was "I love you." 
Tag: Margaret Court
Biên dịch: Nguyễn Thị Kim Phụng
Vào ngày này năm 1973, trong thời kỳ đầu của phong trào giải phóng phụ nữ, hai ngôi sao tennis Bobby Riggs và Margaret Court đã đối đầu trong một trận đấu mà người thắng cuộc sẽ được nhận 10.000 đô la. Riggs 55 tuổi, một nhà vô địch tennis từ cuối thập niên 1930 và đầu thập niên 1940, người nổi tiếng luôn hoài nghi về tài năng của phụ nữ trên sân đấu, đã gọi trận tennis này là “Trận chiến Giới tính” (Battle of the Sexes). Trận đấu, diễn ra vào Ngày của Mẹ và được phát trên sóng truyền hình quốc tế, đã được tổ chức trên sân nhà của Riggs, Câu lạc bộ Đồng quê San Vincente ở Ramona, California, phía đông bắc San Diego. Tiền thu được đã được hứa đem trao tặng cho Hiệp hội Tiểu đường Mỹ. Continue reading /05/1973: “Trận chiến Giới tính” đầu tiên giữa Bobby Riggs và Margaret Court”
In the following months, depressed by his loss, Riggs would harass King for a rematch — which she would refuse. With time passing by, the two contenders of the Battle of the Sexes would create a lasting bond, and they would stay friends until Riggs passed away in 1995.
Nineteen years after the match, in 1992, another “man vs woman” showdown, named The Battle of Champions, saw Jimmy Connors outplay Martina Navratilova. Although he was only allowed one serve and she could hit into half of the doubles alleys , he still won 7-5 6-2. Connors went on to claim later that he had put a million-dollar bet on himself dropping less than eight games.
After defeating a female tennis player, Riggs challenged King to &aposkeep this sex thing going&apos
By early 1973, the 55-year-old Riggs was garnering some badly needed attention by slamming the quality of women&aposs tennis and demanding to face its top players. He was generally ignored by his targets, but that spring he found a taker in Australian champion Margaret Court.
Court, then 30, was in the midst of a career that produced more Grand Slam singles titles than any other player – man or woman – in history, but she was ill-prepared for her May 13 matchup with Riggs. Thrown off by the hustler&aposs assortment of lobs, drop shots and other tricks, Court quickly unraveled en route to a 6-2, 6-1 rout that was dubbed the "Mother&aposs Day Massacre."
Flush in victory, Riggs immediately called out the opponent he preferred all along. "Now I want King bad," he announced. "I&aposll play her on clay, grass, wood, cement, marble or roller skates . . . We got to keep this sex thing going. I&aposm a woman specialist now." King already had plenty on her plate, including, as it turned out, a secret relationship with her female assistant, but she knew there was no choice if she hoped to maintain the hard-earned gains for women&aposs side. That July, the 29-year-old formally agreed to a $100,000, winner-take-all match with the sport&aposs reigning loudmouth.
Wednesday marks 44 years since tennis' 'Battle of the Sexes'
The match came at a pivotal time for King and for women in tennis. King, 29, had previously rejected Riggs' challenge, but agreed to face the 55-year-old after he won a similar match in May against Margaret Court. Weeks before King's match with Riggs, she was among the small group of players who helped create a professional women's tour in tennis.
King also faced skeptics who believed that a woman simply could not beat a man in an athletic competition. King said she worried "it would set us back 50 years if I didn't win that match."
She was also an advocate for women's rights beyond the tennis court. She was a proponent of the new Title IX law, which requires gender equity in educational programs that receive federal funding, and she has said that she believed her match with Riggs would impact public opinion about the legislation.
On the day of the match, more than 30,000 people filed into the Houston Astrodome, and 50 million tuned in to watch on TV. King beat Riggs, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
In 2013, ESPN investigated allegations that Riggs intentionally threw the match to pay off mobsters. Though Riggs died in 1995, King spoke out about the controversy, maintaining that she won fair and square.
"I am 100 percent sure Bobby wanted to win as badly as I did," she said. "Those who bet against me lost money but the result is the same today as it was 40 years ago."
Battle of the Sexes: When Bobby Riggs crushed Margaret Court in a Mother's Day Massacre
Could John McEnroe beat Serena Williams, if they played tomorrow?
It's an equivalent question that was asked in 1973, when Bobby Riggs went head to head with Margaret Court.
And just as a global television audience would be sure to tune in for any McEnroe-Williams clash, so the Battle of the Sexes that took place 47 years ago this week captured the world's imagination.
On May 13, 1973 – 47 years ago this week – it came down to the crapshoot of predicting whether 55-year-old Riggs, the long-retired 1939 Wimbledon champion and twice US Open winner, could match up to 30-year-old Court, by then already a 22-time grand slam winner.
It became known as the Mother's Day Massacre.
Who was Bobby Riggs, and what did he have to gain?
Riggs was a 55-year-old American who in his day had rivalled the likes of Jack Kramer and Fred Perry. Known otherwise for his gambling and hustling, the flamboyant Riggs was presumed long finished as a serious tennis player before he challenged Billie Jean King, who refused to play him, and then Court to a winner-takes-all match.
Australian Court accepted, prompting King to say, according to a Sports Illustrated report at the time: "If Margaret loses, we're in trouble. I'll have to challenge him myself."
Both players are said to have pocketed healthy appearance fees, with $10,000 at stake in the contest itself.
Where did Court vs Riggs happen?
California's San Vicente Valley staged the showdown, a gloriously off-the-beaten-track spot for a Sunday afternoon's tennis.
The drama unfolded on a green hard court, surrounded by four temporary stands housing 3,000 spectators paying $10 a head, including stars of the day, with the American football star OJ Simpson and the actor Bill Cosby among those drawn to the desert.
"I kinda think that if you're competing seriously all the time, Margaret Court will have an edge," Simpson told a US TV crew.
How did Riggs approach his greatest hustle?
Determinedly boorish, Riggs, who wore black thick-rimmed glasses, was focused on ensuring this match was about the hustle as much as the tennis.
His objective was to knock Court out of her stride before they began, and contemporary reports speculated that inveterate gambler Riggs had rather more riding on the outcome than the relatively modest prize money.
He played up his image as an enemy to womankind, and many Americans were revolted, with Riggs crowing: "I am the greatest money player in history."
There was the date, Mother's Day, that brought added intrigue. A day to celebrate mothers, and womankind, was in danger of being hijacked. Court was a new mother herself.
Crucially, Riggs had trained hard, knocking several vices on the head, or at least limiting them, and achieving prim shape, certainly for a man in his mid-fifties.
Court dressed for the occasion, in a patriotic yellow and green pastel kit, 'Margaret' stitched onto the collar. The New York Times reported it was the first time she had not worn white.
She had plenty of support, too. 'Women's libbers', as they were popularly known at the time, were out in force to back Court.
But Riggs was not to be outdone, and the showman walked down onto the court from a stairway in the stands decked out in a tracksuit as blue as the sky, carrying a bouquet of roses, that he presented nonchalantly to Court, who instinctively curtsied.
Bobby Riggs would have turned 102 years old today.We were fierce competitors on the court in the Battle of the Sexes, but off the court, he was my friend.Happy birthday, Bobby. You are missed. pic.twitter.com/4oq75W18ZG— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) February 25, 2020
A match that the bookmakers could not call was to prove utterly one-sided, indeed hugely anti-climactic.
Once the drama of the build-up was done, Riggs pegged back serve-volleyer Court and tore to a 6-2 6-1 victory.
Hardly what the CBS television audience, and those watching back in Australia, had expected.
Court's performance was unusually listless, and she said afterwards the gentle nature of Riggs' game, which he had mixed up to compelling effect, had caught her out.
As an excuse, it was bunk really. Riggs the show pony had completely outfoxed her, steering her to distraction.
"My concentration was bad today," Court told reporters, "and I've been concentrating really well in the last six months or so. I saw everything going on around the court today which was very unusual for me."
Riggs rejoices, and "proves a point"
Court had stressed before the match she was not interested in the 'Battle of the Sexes' element of the contest and was not carrying any banner, but Riggs was all over that aspect.
"I think it proves a point," he said afterwards.
"Fifty-five-year-old, one foot in the grave, night and day difference. And she's the best woman player of all time.
"Sixty million people watching. Biggest match of all time. Battle of the Sexes. And we've all had plenty of time to get ready for it. And you saw what happened, I don't have to explain it to you.
"I think it was the tension, the pressure, the biggest match ever played. The 60 million audience on television. All the press, the way the thing has been built up over the last six months
"She arrived here with the whole pressure of the women's world on her."
Bobby Riggs had approached me several times to play him prior to 1973, but I had not taken the bait. When Margaret Court accepted his invitation to play, I told her, ‘You know you have to win, right?’ Once she lost the match, I knew I would have to play him.— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) August 21, 2019
After seeing off Court, Riggs could name his price for a follow-up match, providing he could find a worthy opponent.
In stepped King, just as she promised, and both reportedly landed $75,000 just for taking part in a September 1973 clash, with a further $100,000 for the winner.
Hosted at the Houston Astrodome, King sauntered to a 6-4 6-3 6-3 victory to land the cash, strike a crucial blow for women in sport, and surely give Court more than a little pause for thought.
Tennis's Other ➺ttle of the Sexes,' Before King-Riggs
Margaret Court followed the money down a desolate two-lane highway. About 40 miles northeast of San Diego, the road known as Wildcat Canyon slithered past orange groves, a dusty Indian reservation and through the shadows of the Cuyamaca Mountains. It was an uncomfortable stretch, so isolated that Mexican drug smugglers favored the route for their midnight drops.
Reaching the outpost of Ramona, Calif., Margaret found a luxury housing development still in the bulldozing stage. It was May 13, 1973. A tennis has-been named Bobby Riggs and a sure $10,000 were just 48 hours away.
All the 5-foot-10 Aussie had to do was punch a few volleys past the geezer in telescopic glasses. All the mommy of the moment had to decide was where to ace the mouthy, wrinkled runt: down the middle or out wide.
It was going to be so easy. With her husband and infant son by her side, Margaret would walk onto a court surrounded by 3,200 fans in makeshift bleachers, impose her V-8 power strokes on Bobby, and exit this lizard's paradise with the winner-take-all payday, plus an extra $10,000 in television rights fees from CBS.
Margaret often described money as an evil, but even she had to admit that the dough was the inducement that brought her here, not Bobby's sexist prattle. She entered her match with Riggs as if it were an exhibition, rather than a serious competition against a skilled and cunning opponent. And she gave no thought to its social consequences. American women were tossing bras, girdles and nylons into trash bins, but the women's movement didn't move Margaret. She was a Mrs., not a Ms.
"I found that a difficult time," Margaret recalls. "I always felt your gift made room for you. Whether you're a man or whether you're a woman, I didn't feel you had to go over the top."
No, Margaret was never one to go over the top. She was a benevolent bystander when Billie Jean King and eight other women risked their tennis careers in daring skirmishes for prize-money equality in 1970. She was a practicing pacifist when those women -- known as The Original Nine -- defied the male tennis establishment to form an autonomous circuit called the Virginia Slims.
Margaret just wasn't the defiant type. She preferred to be a non-combatant amid the gender mudslinging of the early seventies. As a devout Christian who found moral clarity in the Scriptures, she was like many alienated onlookers who couldn't separate man-bashing militants from the messengers of equality. Everything had changed so much, so fast while she was away.
She had fled from fame in 1966, retiring from tennis for two years, desperate to shed her label as the Aussie wonder girl who had won 13 majors before her 25th birthday. But after her marriage to Barry Court in 1967, she returned to the tour in 1968. She hadn't touched a racket in two years, but she slipped right back into her old competitive skin.
In 1970, Margaret won all four majors to capture the elusive Grand Slam. None of those victories was more remarkable than her two-and-a-half-hour epic at Wimbledon. Just before her final against Billie Jean King, Margaret received two painkiller injections into her puffy ankle, blue from a ligament she tore in an earlier match. Billie Jean grimaced through the end of the match with leg cramps and cranky knees.
Barry traveled the world with Margaret. He shrugged off the teases from the blokes back home and never seemed threatened by her success. She was embraced, not marginalized by men. She didn't realize that few women of her time could join her in saying, "I was always the leader of the gang, you know, I had eight boys in the street and I was the cowboy and never the Indian. I never felt frustrated."
All of her life, gentlemen had routinely opened doors for Margaret: from Wal Rutter, the grumpy pro at the tennis club in her hometown of Albury, New South Wales, to the gym attendants who let her into the weight room at 5 a.m., to her coach, the Australian tennis legend Frank Sedgman, who whisked her away from Albury, offering her a job as a typist and a future as a player. At fifteen, Margaret Smith, who grew up in a rented home where she could measure the financial burdens on her family in the amount of alcohol her father drank, was bound for Melbourne to become a gender bender of her own design: a woman with uncommon muscle but traditional values.
Throughout her career, Margaret was an opponent's nightmare. She swooped down and plucked more titles than any woman in history as the unassuming wife who was happy to take career breaks for childbirth. After the first of her three children arrived in 1972, Margaret sat on the sideline for nearly a year. She returned to the tennis mix in 1973, starting off the season with an Australian Open title.
Margaret's priorities were family, tennis and, especially, God, after a spiritual rebirth in the spring of 1972. Religion simplified her world. It eliminated political nuance and its complexities, perhaps one reason she never saw the social tentacles attached to the mouth of Bobby Riggs. To her, Bobby was a harmless huckster with an outdated game and a chauvinist's shtick, a threat to be taken as seriously as a haunted house. His fangs were false his hair was dyed his best days were cobwebbed.
"She didn't get it," Billie says. "She just didn't get it."
Bobby reveled in the perception of himself as a living, breathing punch line of the senior circuit, but there was a message in his act. In the early seventies, Bobby began speaking out against the short shrifting of seniors. He demanded more prize money for aging ex-champions like himself while mocking Billie Jean King's own crusade for equal pay. If women are raking it in, what about us?
Bobby felt sure that any graying champ could knock the high heels off any woman anywhere. And it would mean a second lap with fame for Riggs himself.
The sprite-sized Riggs, a player who survived against giants by exploiting their human weaknesses, plotted his way to the Wimbledon men's singles title in 1939 at 21. The instant attention he gained was delightfully dizzying, a feeling he never thought heɽ recapture. Then came the spring of ❳.
To be surrounded like a bonfire again, to be seated at the best tables in the house, it all made for an intoxicating range of possibilities. But he couldn't realize any of them unless he made the match a reality. So Bobby did what came naturally for him -- he put money on it. Armed with a $5,000 carrot, he sent out telegrams challenging his wish list of opponents: Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Margaret Smith Court.
Billie was the one he wanted, the one who really mattered. "The sex leader of the revolutionary pack," he tagged her. That was typical Riggs, a lob over the net that was meant to tease, to frustrate. To goad. Billie just let it skip out of bounds. "There was nothing in it for women's tennis," Billie says. "I kept saying, 'No, Bobby, no."'
Undervalued in King's Eyes
Margaret couldn't resist the bait. At first, hardly anyone knew that she had accepted Bobby's invitation. Then she and Billie shared a ride in an elevator at the Virginia Slims in Detroit.
"I'm going to play Bobby Riggs," Margaret mentioned as they inched down the shaft.
"That's not enough," Billie countered, "and, secondly, this is not about tennis."
"What do you mean? I'm about to get $10,000."
"Margaret, I'm just going to ask one thing of you: You have to win this match." Margaret nodded politely. Too politely.
"No, I mean it. You have to win this match. You have no idea how important this is."
Billie understood what Margaret couldn't grasp: With critics starting to assail Title IX, with companies still treating working women as credit liabilities and maternity risks, with the credibility of feminists on the line, the consequences of a loss to Bobby could be dire. However, as Billie would later point out, "Margaret didn't see the big picture."
A large, malleable national television audience was expected to watch Margaret's match against Bobby. Billie knew this was no time for a woman to fall apart. The problem was, several early-round losses in the late sixties had earned Margaret a reputation for emotional fragility. Whether it was justified or not, nearly every player on the tour thought of Margaret as someone who collapsed under pressure -- a choker.
"Our reputation is at stake, and I'm afraid Bobby will win," Billie told the press days before the match. "Here is an old jerk who dyes his hair, waddles like a duck and has trouble seeing. We have nothing to gain."
Seeing Beneath the Bravado
Billie was familiar with the puckish, if not outright devilish, interior hidden behind Bobby's ham-handed persona. Born 26 years after Riggs, reared just a few miles from his public park haunts in Los Angeles, Billie had heard the folk tales of his crafty tactics and unquenchable taste for action. She knew he was a great competitor, an esteemed former Wimbledon champion, and an ace pool-hall hustler disguised in tennis whites.
"I just thought, here is a man who has quite a big mouth," Margaret recalls.
You almost couldn't blame Margaret. Sheɽ never been manipulated by a man. But then sheɽ never met a man quite like Bobby Riggs.
He wasn't in tune with women and politics. But, one day, he opened his chops and out came a line that prompted a few giggles, and whetted his appetite for attention:
"C'mon, Billie. Let's play for some money."
Although the press took up his challenge, the players largely ignored Bobby -- until Margaret Court said, "Yes." Privately, she was annoyed that Billie had been Bobby's target when it was Margaret who had the best record on the tour.
"I've beaten better men than Bobby in practice matches," Court announced to reporters. Hardly the taunting type, she played the good sport and went along with Bobby's schemes to hype the event. The media lapped up the loudmouth.
"Call it the Match of the Century," Bobby spouted at a news conference in March to announce his match with Margaret on Mother's Day.
It was hyperbole with a purpose. Bobby was already applying pressure on Margaret's suspect nerves. This was Bobby's moment, and he didn't want to squander it by taking Margaret lightly. He worked out relentlessly. Bobby ran at least a mile a day around a school track near his Newport Beach digs.
Bobby's son Larry, the only one of his children who had excelled as a tennis player, teamed with Bobby's best friend, Lornie Kuhle, to oversee his father's diligent preparation for the match with Margaret.
"For three or four months, we're talking running every day, playing six hours of tennis a day," Larry says. "Train, train, train. He was playing the best tennis of his life."
Training by itself, though, couldn't push back the clock fast or far enough to suit Bobby. He needed a youth potion to match up with the 30-year-old Margaret. At 55, he sought out Rheo Blair, Hollywood's top nutritional guru. Under Blair's supervision, Bobby adopted a diet of protein, dairy products and 415 vitamins a day. "No Booze, No Broads, Vows Bobby," the headlines read.
Bobby's base of operation was the Park Newport condo complex, where he was the tennis director of a swinging singles California enclave for the Geritol set. To promote his match with Margaret, Bobby all but ran an open house for the news media, working the room day and night.
His favorite T-shirt bore the acronym WORMS -- the World Organization for the Retention of Male Supremacy. He was always full of philosophical prose, which he doled out to media by the ladle.
"Margaret is an even-money bet. She plays like a man, I play like a woman."
"Women who can do. Those who can't become feminists."
Bobby's colorful comments had reach. From tennis diehards to the man on the street, they all pounced on every outrageous sentence the flimflam man uttered. In the 1970's, tennis sizzled and Bobby was its latest walking, ever talking marquee attraction. Now all he had to do was win. Bobby scouted Margaret, taking copious notes while following her around the Virginia Slims circuit. Then he candidly laid out his plan for beating her: serve her the soft stuff, throw off her power with spins, upset her rhythm with drop shots, wear down her patience with lobs.
From Lubbock to Las Vegas, the more Bobby chattered, the more folks he convinced. Jimmy the Greek, the oddsmaker of the moment, made Riggs the 5-2 favorite. But the more Bobby talked up his tactics, the more Margaret laughed off his jibes and quips as she continued to win on the tour.
"I am not carrying the banner for Women's Lib," she declared.
Her indifference to the hype befuddled Bobby. Why wasn't Margaret reacting? Wasn't she worried? Then Margaret took off the week before the match to practice with her part-time coach Dennis Van der Meer. Special workouts with Van der Meer hmmm she was feeling the pinch, Bobby thought. Perfect.
Two days before the match, Margaret, Barry, and their 14-month-old son, Danny, made the journey through the gaunt wilderness to San Diego Country Estates.
"With all the shouting and all the showbiz," Margaret says, "I guess I was shocked."
She had barely fought through the swarm of photographers when Bobby began trying his best to crack her cool. "Do you realize, Margaret," Bobby chimed above the fray, "that this is the most important match ever played? Just think how many women are counting on you."
Margaret appeared unruffled by whatever Bobby cooked up. She treated her opponent cordially, for the most part, and even seemed to find him amusing. She got into the spirit of the event by sticking a popular button on Danny's bib: "Women's libbers speak for themselves . Bobby Riggs -- Bleah!"
The night before the match, everyone convened in the dining area for one last supper, as Bobby called it.
"The eyes and ears of the world are on me," Riggs howled. "I am the greatest money player in history."
The Court family dined quietly, alone on the other side of the room, removed from the carnival barker in their midst. During dinner, Danny turned his high chair into a snare drum, banging his spoon to his own beat. The rap was so loud, so unrestrained, and so obnoxious, Margaret couldn't help but note, "You make more noise than Bobby Riggs."
There it was. Bobby was inside Margaret's head. Just where he wanted to be.
Mother's Day morning started off inauspiciously in Margaret's suite. Danny had dumped his mom's only pair of tennis shoes into the toilet.
"It was the beginning of an interesting time," Margaret says.
At least her prized dress was dry. At her request, dress designer extraordinaire Ted Tinling had whipped up a pastel dress trimmed in the Aussie national colors of green and gold. Margaret's name was embroidered on each side of her collar. Here she was, a woman who usually sought invisibility, and she was all but wearing a vanity plate.
Margaret loped to the net to greet the 5-7 Bobby before the match, towering over him as if they were dates at an eighth-grade dance. Instead of a corsage, Bobby handed her a dozen roses as they met in front of CBS commentator Pat Summerall.
"For the nicest mother in tennis," Bobby grinned. "Happy Mother's Day."
Nasty little man, she thought. But to the world, Margaret did not seem the least bit offended. She curtsied in front of the cameras, almost blushing submissively. All week, tales of how she had dismantled Tony Trabert's power in practice had circled the grounds. But that, Bobby believed, was the wrong preparation. She should have been practicing against a beginner.
His strategy worked right from the start. Bobby immediately rendered the circuit's most dominating female force into a weekend hacker by dinking his serves, punching drop shots and lobbing the ball into the afternoon sun. Flummoxed in the face of Bobby's underwhelming attack, her confidence evaporated as the pressure on her built.
She tumbled into Bobby's trap. He had made a career out of waiting for an opponent's mistake. Connecting on just 18 of 37 first serves, Court's collapse happened at flashbulb speed.
Meanwhile, Billie Jean King had nearly missed the match entirely. After stepping off a plane on a layover in Hawaii between Tokyo and L.A., Billie, her secretary Marilyn Barnett, and fellow tennis star Rosie Casals raced through the terminal, frantically looking for one of those coin-operated TV sets attached to the chairs in the waiting areas.
At last they found a vacant one. Nothing but "Gunsmoke" reruns. Finally, they heard the result on Rosie's radio. In just 57 minutes Bobby had dismantled Margaret, 6-2, 6-1.
Billie was beside herself. She knew Margaret's loss would not only be used to undermine the fight for equal pay on the tour, it would also provide an easy caricature for political cartoonists. She marched through the terminal, incensed and motivated. "That's it," she thought. "I've got to play him." Billie phoned her husband and said, "Larry, now we've got something to prove."
On TV, the nation saw Bobby hop the net in California to embrace Margaret after a match that tennis devotées still remember as The Mother's Day Massacre. Bobby's instinct for timing kicked in instantly. In front of the post-match press, he voiced his favorite male fantasy.
"Now I want King bad. I'll play her on clay, grass, wood, cement, marble or roller skates," he declared. "We got to keep this sex thing going. I'm a woman specialist now."
During interviews Bobby flapped his lips again and again to issue yet another challenge to Billie: "I want her, she's the Women's Libber leader."
Far too late, Margaret recognized the magnitude of her match with Bobby. "It was one of my mistakes," Margaret wistfully says now.
This hadn't been a tennis event, but a human saga between the sidelines this hadn't been a casual Sunday hit, but a political proving ground for gender. Billie would have Margaret's political ignorance to thank for spinning her destiny into motion. In essence, Margaret was a matchmaker. Bobby had been waiting for a gal like Billie all of his life.
This article is an adaptation from "A Necessary Spectacle: Billie Jean King, Bobby Riggs, and the Tennis Match That Leveled the Game," (Crown) by Selena Roberts about the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes," which was more about gender, politics, theater and equal pay than tennis. It is often forgotten that without Riggs's humiliation of the mighty Margaret Court, King-Riggs would have never happened.
Billy Jean King
During his initial challenge to female tennis players, Riggs has originally wanted to play Billie Jean King. By 1973, King had already won 10 major singles titles but had repeatedly turned him down, not wanting to indulge the showman having been a strong advocate for gender equality and social justice.
But following his win over Court, Riggs had been in the national limelight and continued to taunt female tennis players. King eventually accepted the challenge as well as a lucrative offer which involved King taking on Riggs in a nationally televised match on prime time ABC. The match was dubbed the ‘Battle of the Sexes.’
A prize of $100,000 was set for the match with the winner taking all. Riggs hyped the contest in press conferences and in the media with a plethora of misogynistic comments, including “the best way to handle women is to keep them pregnant and barefoot,” exclaiming, “I’ll tell you why I’ll win. She’s a woman and they don’t have the emotional stability.” Riggs also promised to jump off a bridge if he lost declaring, “women belong in the bedroom and kitchen, in that order.” King, though attempting to keep things playful, responded by calling him Riggs a ‘creep.’
The True Story Behind the Battle of the Sexes Movie
T he 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs was a spectacle made for Hollywood. King was at the top of her game, the first female player to win over $100,000 in a year. Riggs was an over-the-hill showboat and self-declared chauvinist pig with a gambling problem. Riggs hoped for one last minute of fame, King to prove that women deserved as much prize money and respect as men.
Ninety million people tuned into “The Battle of the Sexes,” and 44 years later Emma Stone and Steve Carrell are bringing the match to the big screen. The movie details both the on-court drama and the behind-the-scenes turmoil affecting the two tennis legends. The married King had recently begun an affair with a woman, while Riggs was struggling to connect with his family. Here’s what the movie got right about the historic game that made King an icon &mdash and what the filmmakers exaggerated.
Fact: Billie Jean King came into conflict with Jack Kramer
Once a tennis champ himself, Kramer (Bill Pullman) was running the Pacific Southwest Tennis Tournament in 1970. That tournament offered women just 15% of the prize money that it awarded the men, despite that the women’s final sold as many tickets as the men’s final did. King challenged Kramer about the pay gap, and when he would not agree to up the women’s prize money, King led a walk-out. She and several other women went on to create the Virginia Slims tour and later the Women’s Tennis Association.
Kramer and King came into conflict again three years later on the eve of the Battle of the Sexes game. Kramer was set to be a commentator for the game, and King threatened to call off the match at the last minute if Kramer wasn’t removed. She argued that he was biased against female tennis players. The network conceded to her demands.
Fact: Virginia Slims sponsored that women’s tennis tour
In retrospect, the cigarette company was probably not the best sponsor of an athletic tournament. But it was the only advertising money they could get. Sarah Silverman’s character, Gladys Heldman, did indeed arrange the Virginia Slims tour. She asked the players to sign symbolic $1 contracts before they had enough money to pay the players and then wrangled sponsors. The women were suspended by the USTA but when the women’s tour proved successful, the two tours merged again.
Once a tennis player herself, Heldman founded World Tennis magazine and supported female tennis players in their support for equal pay. Her own daughter, Julie, even joined the separate women’s tour.
Fact: Riggs played poker with his therapist
Fiction: King and Riggs were old friends
In the movie, the two tennis players seem to know each other well &mdash not only does Riggs call King in the middle of the night to challenge her to a match, but King dismisses the call as typical Riggs behavior. In reality, King says she barely knew the former champion, who was 25 years her senior.
However, after the Battle of the Sexes the two became friends and remained close until his death in 1995. King said she spoke to Riggs the day before he died, and they said “I love you” to each other.
Fact: King did initially turn Riggs down for the match
And he did then ask Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) to play him instead. Riggs defeated Court in the “Mother’s Day Massacre,” which changed King’s mind about playing Riggs.
King and Court really were rivals, their careers intertwined. King’s first major singles success came in 1972 when she upset the top-seeded Court in the second round of Wimbledon. For the next decade, they competed for the top spot of the women’s rankings. Over the course of their careers, Court won 24 majors, and King just 12. That made King’s ability to defeat Riggs after the Mother’s Day Massacre extra sweet.
Fact: Margaret Court is opposed to same-sex marriage
The conservative tennis player has publicly called same-sex relationships “a lust for the flesh.”
Fact: During the “Battle of the Sexes,” Billie Jean King was involved with her hairdresser
The affair really did take place in the period before the Battle of the Sexes. King’s relationship with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett later became public in 1981 when Barnett sued King for a share of the tennis player’s property. In the suit, Barnett argued that because she gave up her career as a hairdresser to become a secretary, confidante, cook “and all other things necessary so that Mrs. King’s energy could be totally directed toward playing tennis,” under California law Barnett was due palimony, according to the New York Times.
King, who was still married to Larry King (Austin Stowell in the movie) at the time, initially denied the affair. But later that year she called a press conference in which she admitted her involvement with Barnett (Andrew Riseborough). “People’s privacy is very important, but unfortunately someone didn’t respect that,” she told The Chicago Tribune. “I did have an affair with Marilyn, but it was over quite some time ago. I’m very disturbed and shocked that Marilyn would do this in such a selfish way.”
Billie Jean and Larry King divorced in 1987. King is now in a relationship with Ilana Kloss, also a former tennis player. She has since become a prominent booster for LGBTQ rights.
Fiction: Barnett showed up right before King’s match to give her a haircut
The scene in which Barnett runs out of her salon to find King and give her a confidence boost (and a haircut) right before her face-off with Riggs is Hollywood fabrication. The haircut did happen but in Los Angeles before King left for the match in Houston.