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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 September, 2003, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
The Battle of the Sexes - 30 years on
Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King said defeat would have set women back by centuries
Thirty years ago Billie Jean King beat Bobbie Riggs in the much publicised 'Battle of the Sexes' at the Houston Astrodome.

King, who had initially turned down Riggs' challenge, beat the 1939 Wimbledon Champion 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, before a crowd of 30,472 - the largest ever crowd to have watched a tennis match.

The game attracted a worldwide television audience of 50 million.

King herself said: "It was about social change, it wasn't about tennis.

"I knew that if I didn't win it it would put us back a few centuries or so.

"Looking back - and hindsight is more important than foresight - it was one of the best things that ever happened to our sport...it helped people think a little differently."

The match itself was played three years after King had formed the Virginia Slims Tour, the forerunner of the Women's Tennis Association.

Top level

Australian player Judy Dalton, an original Tour member, said: "We'd already made inroads...but once this happened, the gates really opened, and then women's tennis really came of age - if that's the right term to use.

"People wouldn't have recognised you but once that had happened they started to recognise women as players."

Thirty years on, do commentators on today's tennis scene think a woman could, conceivably, beat a male player in top level tennis?

Broadcaster David Luddy said: "No, definitely not, but it depends on the standard - today you'd get a Williams sister beating a good male county player, but not anyone on the circuit.

Richard Joyner
Richard Joyner would like to see a Williams sister play a top man

"If you set up Venus Williams against Tim Henman it would be a slaughter - but people would be interested, of course they would."

Doug Kirk, a Lincoln based coach who talent-spotted Tim Henman when he worked for the Lawn Tennis Association said: "I'm 65 now, I beat the top girls at county level but not the boys - they're much, much stronger.

"I don't think the top women would be able to take on the top men - you'd have to go quite a long way down the list to find a man who'd lose to a woman.

"I'm not saying women are worse - it's just a strength factor, or maybe a speed factor."

Publicity stunt

Nottingham Tennis Centre's tennis manager Richard Joyner says he would be interested seeing a Williams sister playing against one of the top men.

"Both sisters like to dominate and dictate the play, but could they do that against someone regularly serving at 120mph?

"Would it change the way they play? Psychologically it would be interesting to see."

Most people agree the Bobbie Riggs-Billie Jean King match was a publicity stunt - Riggs, then aged 55, was then not playing regular tournaments like King, aged 29.

Leicester-based international veteran player Jill Thompson said: "I don't think personally I'd be interested in a match like that - I think it would be a bit artificial.

Nowadays tennis is probably way ahead of other sports in terms of women competitors being more in the public eye
Sandra Herbert, veteran player
"I'm not sure women would ever completely catch up because of the difference in physique."

Sandra Herbert a veteran player with Leicestershire Lawn Tennis Club, said: "It brought it to the attention of the wider public - who weren't aware there was that much disparity between men and women.

"Nowadays I think tennis is probably way ahead of other sports in terms of women competitors being more in the public eye."

But she is a bit more doubtful of the validity of a 'battle of the sexes' 30 years on.

"Say if you brought Bjorn Borg out of retirement to play against Chris Evert that would be fun - but as a serious match, no way."





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