Battle of the Sexes (tennis)
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2008)|
|Margaret Court vs. Bobby Riggs|
|Date||May 13, 1973|
|Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs|
|Date||September 20, 1973|
|Martina Navratilova vs. Jimmy Connors|
|Location||Las Vegas, Nevada|
The Battle of the Sexes is a title given to three notable tennis matches between a male and a female player. The first match was between Bobby Riggs and Margaret Court, over the best of three sets. The second was a nationally televised match between Riggs and Billie Jean King, over the best of five sets. The Riggs v King match was officially dubbed The Battle of the Sexes. The final match was between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova, over the best of three sets and hybrid rules favoring the female player, which was dubbed The Battle of Champions.
Riggs v Court
A master promoter of himself and of tennis, Riggs saw an opportunity in 1973 to make money and to elevate the popularity of a sport he loved. Although 55 years old at the time, 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. Riggs first challenged King, but when she declined, Court stepped in. At the time Court was 30 years old and the top female player in the world. In their May 13, 1973, Mother's Day match in Ramona, California, Riggs used his drop shots and lobs to keep Court off balance. His 6–2, 6–1 victory landed Riggs on the cover of both Sports Illustrated and Time magazine.
Riggs v King
Suddenly in the national limelight, following his win over Court, Riggs taunted all female tennis players, prompting King to accept a lucrative financial offer to play Riggs in a nationally televised match that the promoters dubbed the "Battle of the Sexes". The match was held in Houston, Texas on September 20, 1973. Bobby Riggs did an interview for the American television program 60 Minutes, in the buildup to the event.
Shortly before the match, King entered the Astrodome in Cleopatra style, carried aloft in a chair held by four bare-chested muscle men dressed in the style of ancient slaves. Riggs followed in a rickshaw drawn by a bevy of scantily-clad models. Riggs presented King with a giant lollipop and she gave him a piglet named Larimore Hustle. King had learned from Court's loss and was ready for Riggs' game. Rather than playing her own usual aggressive game, she mostly stayed at the baseline, easily handling Riggs's lobs and soft shots, making Riggs cover the entire court as she ran him from side to side, and beating him at his own defensive game. After quickly falling behind from the baseline, where he had intended to play, Riggs was forced to change to a serve-and-volley game. Even from the net, the result was the same: King defeated him, 6–4, 6–3, 6–3.
A few critics were less than impressed by King's victory. King was 26 years younger, and some experts claimed that it was more an age versus youth game. According to Jack Kramer, "I don't think Billie Jean played all that well. She hit a lot of short balls which Bobby could have taken advantage of had he been in shape. I would never take anything away from Billie Jean — because she was smart enough to prepare herself properly — but it might have been different if Riggs hadn't kept running around. It was more than one woman who took care of Bobby Riggs in Houston". Before the match, however, King had forced the American television network ABC to drop Kramer as a commentator. King said, "He doesn't believe in women's tennis. Why should he be part of this match? He doesn't believe in half of the match. I'm not playing. Either he goes – or I go". After the match, Pancho Segura declared that Riggs was only the third best senior player, behind himself and Gardnar Mulloy, and challenged King to another match. King refused. Despite some of the comments downplaying the loss by Riggs (or victory of King), following the match Riggs was "devastated" and isolated himself in his hotel room for four hours with his handlers checking on him periodically. Given Riggs's highly competitive nature, he did not enjoy losing to a woman before an audience of an estimated 90 million worldwide (50 million in the US). The attendance in the Houston Astrodome was 30,472 and still the largest audience ever to see a tennis match in the US.
There was also widespread speculation, based on Riggs' unusually poor play and large number of unforced errors, that Riggs had purposely lost the match in order to win large sums of money that he had bet against himself, as a way to pay off his gambling debts. ESPN's Outside the Lines on August 25, 2013 featured a man who had been silent for 40 years who said he heard several members of the mafia talking about Riggs throwing the match in exchange for cancelling Riggs' gambling debt to the mob. On the other hand, the article says Riggs' close friend and estate executor Lornie Kuhle vehemently denied Riggs was ever in debt to the mob or received a payoff from them. The article also quotes Riggs' son who claims his father felt he had made a terrible mistake, and was depressed for six months following the match. Riggs wanted a rematch but King was against it. Riggs considered suing King, as a rematch had been part of the contract. The two became good friends.
Kramer wrote, however, that "Billie Jean beat him fair and square. A lot of men — especially around our age — were so stunned when he lost that they figured he must have tanked. Budge is convinced of that. But what motive would Riggs have for that? Bobby Riggs, the biggest ham in the world, gets his greatest audience — and purposefully looks bad? There's no way. If he had beaten Billie Jean, he could have kept the act going indefinitely. Next they would have had him play Chrissy on clay." The match against King had a winner-takes-all prize of $100,000. If Riggs had won, the next match against Evert would have a prize of $1,000,000 for the winner. Selena Roberts claimed in her book documenting the match, A Necessary Spectacle, that Riggs later undertook a public lie detector test to prove he did not throw the match.
In recent years, a persistent urban legend has arisen, particularly on the Internet, that the rules were modified for the match so that Riggs had only one serve for King's two, and that King was allowed to hit into the doubles court area. This is false: the match was played under the normal rules of tennis. The modified rules were applied to the Connors v Navratilova match in 1992, which may have contributed to the confusion.
Battle of the Sexes: The Challenge! (doubles)
On 23 August 1985, at age 67, Riggs returned to the tennis spotlight when he partnered with Vitas Gerulaitis, at the time a top-20 player, to launch another challenge to female players. He challenged Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver to a doubles match. Navratilova said that she accepted because she believed she and Pam had no weaknesses when playing doubles, and that they were going to 'do a Billie' and win, especially given Riggs' age. The match took place at The Atlantic City Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Riggs' health had deteriorated somewhat from his last outing as he was now deaf and wore glasses. Moreover, because Riggs was a finesse player and not a power player, the women expected that defeating him would be easier than a retired power player. Riggs' return was short lived when the women won 6–3, 6–2, 6–4. Mike Penner (of The Los Angeles Times) wrote: "The great misconception about "The Challenge!" was that it might actually serve as a legitimate proving ground for the sexes". The sports writer went on to point out that there were a couple things keeping this match from being seriously looked at as a legitimate challenge. "First, it was a doubles match, not a one-on-one competition. The strategy is different in doubles, weaknesses can be more easily masked and stamina is not nearly so critical a factor". The other point to be made: "Riggs amounted to a 67-year-old ball-and-chain shackled to the ankle of Gerulaitis. Riggs couldn't serve, couldn't return serves, couldn't hit overheads with any amount of force. Older than the combined ages of Navratilova and Shriver, Riggs was painfully out of place in this match. Even John McEnroe, on his finest day, would be an underdog against Navratilova and Shriver if Riggs were his partner".
A third "Battle of the Sexes" match, entitled Battle of Champions, was played at Caesars Palace in Paradise, Nevada, in September 1992 between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova, aged 40 and 35 respectively. Navratilova had previously turned down invitations to take on John McEnroe and Ilie Năstase, as she considered them undignified. The promoters initially tried to match Connors with the then top ranked female player, Monica Seles. Connors called the match 'war'. Navratilova, on the other hand, called it a battle of egos.
The match was played under hybrid rules to make it more competitive; Connors was allowed only one serve per point, and Navratilova was allowed to hit into half the doubles court. Each player received a $650,000 guarantee, with a further $500,000 for the winner. Connors won 7–5, 6–2. Navratilova made 8 double faults and 36 unforced errors. Connors, too, was nervous and there was a rumor that he had bet on himself to win at 4:1 and had placed a large amount of cash on it.
Karsten Braasch vs. the Williams sisters
A fourth event dubbed a "Battle of the Sexes" took place during the 1998 Australian Open between Karsten Braasch and the Williams sisters. Venus and Serena Williams, aged 17 and 16 respectively, had claimed that they could beat any male player ranked below 200, so Braasch, then ranked 203rd, challenged them both. The matches took place on court number 12 in Melbourne Park. Braasch first took on Venus and beat her 6–2. He then played Serena and won 6–1. Braasch said afterwards, "500 and above, no chance". He added that he had played like someone ranked 600th in order to keep the game "fun".
In December 2003, Yannick Noah and Justine Henin played a friendly at the Forest National in Brussels. Noah donned a dress for much of the match. He played predominantly trick shots and slices, but still ended up winning 4–6, 6–4, 7–6.
In 2013, Andy Murray responded to a Twitter user who asked whether he would consider challenging Serena Williams, saying "I’d be up for it. Why not?" Williams also reacted positively to the suggestion, remarking "That would be fun. I doubt I’d win a point, but that would be fun".
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