March 27, 2023

By Ahmet Abdulaziz….

There is no doubt that feminism was the mark of the last century, and it still is. The way women the world over, pressed hard to gain more and more freedom for themselves, is well known, and still, we come across news about activists trying to keep the movement alive. But way back during the 1970s when the struggle in the name of “feminism” was at its height, there literally was an actual “battle of sexes”. That battle was fought on tennis courts.

Bobby Riggs used to be considered as the best tennis player, of his time. He had won the men’s singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon, in 1939. He did have won some more titles. But that was not all.

Bobby had earned a reputation of taking an anti-women stand in the field of sports. He was notoriously skeptical about their talent. This had led to a point where he had offered to face any top ranking female tennis player, to prove the male superiority on the court.

Billie Jean King the top ranking female tennis player, and the feminist activist, of that time, repeatedly refused to accept his challenge. But Margaret Court, the then Number one, accepted the challenge. That particular match, played on 13th May 1973, between Margaret Court and Bobby Riggs, is known as the first of the series, dubbed as “battle of the sexes”. Unfortunately, 31 years old Margaret Court, could not counter the variety of lobs, drop shots, and spin shots of 55 years old Bobby. Bobby Riggs won 6-2, 6-1. The match went down in historical literature as the “Mother’s Day Massacre”.

Though the feminism movement got a dent, but that led Billie Jean King to accept the pending challenge. The real “battle of sexes” had just begun. Both Bobby and King had entered into a war of words, out of the tennis court. That was in fact necessary, in order to popularise the issue and to increase public interest in the match to come. All this of course was going to generate great revenue.

Resultantly on September 30, 1973, 30,492 tennis fans came to watch the historical “battle of the sexes” in Houston. Around 90 million people watched it on their television sets, around the globe. It was a match worthy of being watched. A number of people, who had watched Margaret Court, bowing out, a couple of months earlier, had considered Riggs in a much better position, and chances to win the match.

Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs 1973 – Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

However, as the match started, everybody realised that Billie Jean had put in all that she had, to win the match. Her commitment was more than evident, in her aggressive style of play. Riggs, contrary to the predictions of many, failed to match that aggression. The match ended 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in favour of Billie Jean King.

The ”battle of the sexes” was thus won by Billie Jean King, and so was the Feminism movement.Billie Jean King got the 100,000 dollar check from George Foreman, the former Heavy Weight Champion of the world.

The ultimate result of the “ battle of the sexes”, took the name of Billie Jean King to unprecedented heights. After getting this unprecedented position she did all that she could do for the betterment of female tennis players. She helped found the Women’s players union. She was at the helm of affairs in carrying out a non-profit advocacy group for female athletes.

Bobby Riggs died of prostate cancer in 1995.

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