Monday 1 July 2013
Billie Jean King is rightly considered as one of the greatest players to have ever picked up a racket. With 39 Grand Slam titles to her name, including 12 in singles, the American's contribution to her sport on the court has been enormous, but off the court, even more so.
In 1970, King was joined by a group of eight other tennis-playing rebels, who envisioned a brighter future for their sport, to launch women's professional tennis by signing $1 contracts with World Tennis publications publisher Gladys Heldman, allowing them to compete in a newly created Virginia Slims Series.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA Tour), which was founded by King in June 1973. King, the winner of a record 20 Wimbledon titles, united all of women's professional tennis into one tour after a successful meeting at the Gloucester Hotel in London.
Later that year, 1939 Wimbledon Gentlemen's Singles champion, Bobby Riggs, who had long been retired from the game, challenged King to a match. “Billie Jean King is one of the all-time tennis greats, she's one of the superstars, she's ready for the big one, but she doesn't stand a chance against me, women's tennis is so far beneath men's tennis," claimed a 55-year-old Riggs.
Riggs had defeated world No.1 Margaret Court convincingly, in a similar contest only a matter of months previously and described women's tennis as "inferior" - prompting King to step up to the mark.
As an outspoken activist against sexism in sport and society, King accepted the invitation to take on a man widely referred to as a 'showman'. On September 20th, King, aged 29, demolished Riggs in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in front of over 30,000 people at The Houston Astrodome and millions more watching on television.
The match was revered as the most fascinating tennis battle of the century and King, who was reigning Wimbledon champion at the time, acted for equality and liberation for women's tennis, and sport.
The famous duel is now the subject of a new documentary film 'The Battle of the Sexes', which is now in cinemas. The drama's centrepiece is the 1973 battle between Riggs and King and combines rare match footage, reconstructions and interviews with key characters set against the backdrop of 1970s America.
Speaking to Wimbledon.com at the London premiere of the documentary, King said: "It's amazing how many people it takes to make something truly happen (the formation of the WTA Tour). The Battle of the Sexes is a true celebration of where we started and how far we have come, and how far we still want to go."
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