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Mon, July 22

Column: The tennis match heard around the world

Almost 37 years ago, a match did much to change the world of tennis and gain a platform to help women's rights, known as, "The Battle of the Sexes."

The three key players were Bobby Riggs, Billie Jean King and Margaret Court. Little did they know at that time just how important an event it would become.

This particular tennis match was so hyped, promoted and talked about not only by tennis players across the world - but the masses, that it took on a life of it's own.

Many may have asked how Riggs, a 55-year-old man, thought he could beat the No. 1 women's player in the world in Court.

That's the question Margaret Court asked herself when Riggs coaxed her to play against him for a guaranteed $10,000 on Mother's Day in Ramona, Calif., a prelude to what would take place later in the year against King.

Court who was then 30 and the top player in the world looked at the match as an easy payday, nothing more.

Riggs, considered the ultimate hustler, looked to the televised match as a chance to get back in the limelight promoting himself and senior tennis.

Born in 1918 the son of a minister and the youngest of six siblings, Riggs was one of the top juniors players out of California that went on to win the singles, doubles and mixed titles at Wimbledon in 1939.

While betting on himself in each event at 200-1 odds, Riggs pocketed $108,000, a lot of money in those days. This was the start of a life-long gambling role he'd become known for.

To make a long story short, Riggs beat Court easily, 6-2, 6-1, which set the stage for him to play the match he really had wanted against King.

The wheels were set in motion shortly after King won her fifth Wimbledon title, July 11, 1973 at a press conference at Manhattan's Town Tennis Club where she accepted his challenge ... .and the circus atmosphere began.

On September 20, 1973, 30,492 fans purchased tickets to take part in this historical tennis event while an estimated 50 million watched it on TV.

Billed as the "Libber versus the Lobber", Riggs got his mug on the front cover of Sports Illustrated and Time magazine.

He spent the days and weeks before the match grabbing up endorsements, partying; barnstorming the media outlets and doing betting exhibitions against celebrities and others rich folk, among other things.

He was very over-confident and didn't train for the match.

King in the meantime was doing just the opposite.

She was totally focused on the moment and ready in every manner. The downside for King was it seemed many of the women on the tour didn't think she had much a chance to win, and that was disturbing for her.

Howard Cosell was the announcer with guest analyst Rosie Casals in this three of five set match.

The chauvinistic pig against the women's rights activist began with husbands and wives rooting in the same household for their own victor.

The first set was close, but Riggs lost it with an uncharacteristic double-fault serving at 4-5.

King took the lead and the women in the dome stood cheering loudly for the feminist cause.

Riggs broke King early in the second set, but it didn't take long to see the writing on the wall. The out-of-shape 55 year old was no match for the 29-year-old King, losing the second set 6-3, then dropping the third 6-3.

King went on to win 39 major titles, organize the women's tour, help with Title lX, co-found World Team Tennis, captain the Fed Cup team, speaker, author, and recently the U.S. Tennis Center was named in her honor.

Riggs continued with his "Battle of the Sexes" persona until his death from cancer in 1995.

Through all the years since their fated match both Riggs and King remained closer friends than most would imagine finally realizing the true impact they had.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can reached at 928-445-1331 or


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