This last Saturday I finally got to go see the movie, “Battle of the Sexes,” where in 1973 the No. 2 woman tennis player in the world, Billie Jean King, played an exhibition match in the Houston Astrodome against Bobby Riggs in a winner take all $100,000 match.
King, played by Oscar winner Emma Stone and Riggs by Steve Carell caught the attention of the nation with the man against woman theme: equal rights, equal pay - all the thoughts pertaining to a new world beginning to take shape.
Over 30,000 people filled the dome and nearly 100 million watched by television to make this the most viewed sports event ever held.
The movie dealt in a major way with the life of the 29 year-old King and a lessor amount with Riggs (55) both trying to navigate their personal journey’s and internal battles.
King as a tennis player was still struggling with finding her true sexual orientation, Riggs with his addiction to gambling and both their marriages in crisis, which are delicately covered.
At the time, King and business woman Gladys Heldman, unhappy with the men’s tour run by former player and promoter Jack Kramer paying the women players eight times less than what the men received - decided to start their own tour, which became the Virginia Slims. During that rough patch for women, the number one women’s player Margaret Court was offered $35,000 to play an exhibition match against Bobby on Mother’s Day, which was too good to turn down. Unfortunately for her, Riggs won the match, setting the stage for his debut with King.
Leading up to the battle match both had different ways of training - King with getting into the best shape of her life gearing for a match she had to win and Riggs grabbing every offer he was made to make a buck, but not spending much time on the court. He figured if he could beat the No. 1 player on the women’s tour, he had it made for playing the No. 2.
Their promotion of the event together was humorous for the most part with Riggs saying things like, “I like women in the kitchen and the bedroom where they belong,” and King quoted with, “Dinosaurs can’t play tennis.” Around all of this is the story of both navigating their personal journeys, struggles and demons in a society much different from todays.
A relationship triangle of King, Marilyn Barnett and husband Larry King is laid out. Riggs feeling the strain of wanting to continue his way of life with gambling while his wealthy wife says she loves him but just can’t do it any more is as well.
Both King and Riggs are more alike than different when it came to loving the lime-light and wanting to be some body.
Add the main story to the sub story and it’s a crazy amount of stress and pressure to deal with - a real behind the scenes feel comes alive.
She doesn’t want to hurt her husband, parents, the women’s tour (of which she’s President), and sponsor earnings - yet she doesn’t want to live a lie.
Riggs on the other hand doesn’t believe his gambling is a problem and even though he goes to gambler-anonymous meetings he thinks all but him are just bad deal makers...kind of funny, but kind of sad.
As a tennis player and having read many articles on the subject of this special event I enjoyed what probably to date is the best tennis movie that’s been made. Will Stone win another Oscar, probably not - but I’d still say if you like the game of tennis, you should check this movie out.
It shows the humanness of each of us and how we continue to do our best in an imperfect world.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or firstname.lastname@example.org.