On This Day: The claim that ignited 1973's 'Battle of the Sexes'

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·News Reporter
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On this day on September 20, 1973, the famous "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match was played between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

The historic match, which took place inside the Astrodome in Houston, Texas saw top-ranked women’s player Billie Jean King, 29, beat former World Number 1 player Bobby Riggs, 55, in three straight sets.

The infamous “Battle of the Sexes” was a significant moment in the second wave of the women’s movement during the 1970s, as Riggs was a self-proclaimed male chauvinist who claimed women were inferior and couldn’t handle the pressure of the game.

The King-Riggs match was the most-watched tennis match of all time, drawing over 30,000 spectators at the Houston Astrodome and watched by an estimated 90 million TV viewers worldwide.

Billie Jean King plays Bobby Riggs in 1973 Battle of the Sexes tennis match. Source: Getty Images
The infamous 'Battle of the Sexes' match was a significant moment in the women’s movement. Source: Getty Images

What happened?

King, who had already established herself as a progressive force in women’s tennis, entered the arena atop a gold throne carried by men dressed as ancient slaves, while her opponent, Riggs, arrived in a rickshaw pulled by female models dubbed “Bobby’s Bosom Buddies.”

It was clear from the start that this wasn’t any tennis match. It was the “Battle of the Sexes”.

Riggs, who had previously claimed that “women belong in the bedroom and the kitchen in that order”, flaunted his chauvinism by wearing his “Sugar Daddy” jacket during the first three games of the iconic match.

Billie Jean King on gold throne carried by men dressed as ancient slaves. Source: Getty Images
Billie Jean King entered the arena atop a gold throne carried by men dressed as ancient slaves. Source: Getty Images

However, he quickly lost his bravado, as King kept volleying shots past an out-of-shape Riggs to win the first set.

King won the match 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 and celebrated by tossing her racket, Riggs hopped the net and whispered “I underestimated you” into her ear.

From the moment King bounced the ball for her first serve inside the Astrodome, she knew that winning could change the lives of women everywhere by proving they weren’t the weaker sex.

"I thought 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," said King, who believed that it was her duty to fight for gender equality in sports.

What happened next?

In the aftermath of the “Battle of the Sexes”, King continued her legendary tennis career, eventually retiring in 1984 after winning 39 singles and doubles Grand Slam championships.

The “mother of modern sports” remained active as a coach, commentator and advocate for women’s sports throughout the years.

In 2006, the USTA National Tennis Center, home of the US Open, was renamed in King’s honour. During the dedication ceremony, tennis legend John McEnroe called King “the single most important person in the history of women’s sports.”

Billie Jean King talks with the media prior to playing a tennis match. Source: Getty Images
Billie Jean King remains the most influential name in women’s sports to this day. Source: Getty Images

King also became prominent activist for women’s rights and gay rights following the historic match and the landmark 1981 revelation of her homosexuality.

Today, the “Battle of the Sexes” remains a victory for women’s rights and feminism and was even the subject of a 2017 movie starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell.

Billie Jean King remains the most influential name in women’s sports. She is a life-long equality campaigner and a trailblazer in sport and beyond.

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