Billie Jean King reflected on the watershed moment of her career that changed the game for women in tennis.
The infamous match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs has garnered an iconic status in history. It was dubbed "Battle of the Sexes," which positively impacted the cause of women in sports. Now, almost 50 years later, Kings is recalling the conversation she had with Riggs after the historic match where she eventually managed to give him a shocking defeat, reports TODAY. Before the match, most people bet on Riggs to take the win, but she shut down the critics and brought renewed attention to women's sports, inspiring girls and parents all over the world.
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The match took place on September 20, 1973, at Houston's Astrodome. King, the no.1 player of that time in women's tennis, beat Riggs in straight sets. Through her victory, she brought attention to the unfairness of gender disparity in sports. The win showed that women can be as capable as men in the sport and therefore, should have an equal footing. After the match, even Riggs admitted how good King was despite the defeat. Speaking to TODAY's Sheinelle Jones in an interview that aired August 25, King recalled: "When we shook hands, put our arms around each other, he said, 'I underestimated you.'"
It led Kings to quickly search for her father amidst the spectators. It reminded her of what her father always taught her and her brother: "Never, ever underestimate your opponent, and always respect them, even if you don't like them." She felt it was perfect for this moment, considering that before the match, Riggs unabashedly proclaimed everywhere that he could beat King, despite the latter being at the top of her game.
Riggs, who passed away in 1995, was a celebrated figure in tennis in the 1940s as he had bagged one Wimbledon title and two US Open titles. The moment the match was arranged, it attracted widespread attention from all corners of the world. It was an important match for both contenders, with King—for the first time—requesting her parents to watch the match. "My parents hardly watched me play, but I pleaded with them to come to this match," she said. "And they were actually there, so it was great."
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King, in her illustrious career, has won 39 Grand Slam tournaments. But, she believes that this match is what changed the course of her career and made her an inspiration for all the women in the world. Reflecting on the watershed moment, she said, "Oh, for sure, but it really was about social change. Women have come up to me since that match — that match has been mentioned every day of my life since that match, by the way." In her opinion, seeing her play so confidently gave women a lot of confidence.
King recounted how President Obama told her that watching her play had a huge impact on the way he and his wife chose to raise their children. Today, after so many years, the thing she is the most grateful about is how that match caused pertinent conversations to garner the limelight. She wants to prepare the next generation of leaders to continue what she started and not quit until women garner equal status in every aspect of sports. "Every generation passes the baton to the next generation. We have an opportunity to make this world a better place, and I want the players today to lead just like we led back in the old days. But I want them to do the same and pass the torch, each generation," King said.