Sept-20-1973: Billie Jean King Wins The Battle of the Sexes

On this day in 1973, Billie Jean King won the “Battle of the Sexes” over Bobbie Riggs before a worldwide audience of 90 million.

Bobby Riggs, who had been one of the world’s top tennis players in the 1940s; dismissed the female tennis circuit as inferior and boasted that at the age of 55 he could still beat any of the top female players.  He challenged Billie Jean King, who at first declined.

Margaret Court (30), the #1 women’s player at the time, stepped in for King to battle Riggs in what became known as the “Mother’s Day Massacre”.  Riggs won 6-2 and 6-1.

As a result, King agreed to a challenge match in the Houston Astrodome for a winner-take-all prize of $100,000.

Riggs King
Age  55  29
Majors Won  French (’39)
Wimbledon (’39)
US Open (’39, ’41)

 Australian (’68)
French (’72)
Wimbledon
(’66, ’67,  ’68, ’72, ’73)
US Open (’67, ’71, ’72)

Last Ranked #1  1939  1972

The match had an audience of an estimated 90 million worldwide (50 million in the US). The attendance in the Houston Astrodome was 30,472, as of 2012 the largest audience to see a tennis match in the US.

King feared “it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. . . It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self-esteem.”  King, however, dispensed with Riggs in straight sets.   Riggs was “devastated” by the loss and isolated himself in his hotel room for four hours.

Set 1 2 3
Billie Jean King 6 6 6
Bobby Riggs 4 3 3
Date September 20, 1973
Location Houston, Texas

The Battle of the Sexes was a seminal 1970’s cultural event and perfect for the big screen.  It was the subject of a documentary, “The Battle of Sexes” in 2013.

Filming has begun on a dramatic production featuring Emma Stone and Steve Carell as the two protagonists.

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