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"The Battle of the Sexes" - Billie Jean King d. Bobby Riggs, 6-4. 6-3. 6-3, Sep 20, 1973 in Houston, TX


The Hersch
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Sonny Liston and Bobby Riggs: great sportsmen who tanked matches for money. 

Is this indictment of Bobby Riggs based on more than the unsworn and unverifiable testimony of a guy who alleges (four decades later) that he eavesdropped on some mobsters talking about Riggs throwing the "Battle of the Sexes" match against Billie Jean King before he had even played Margaret Court?

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Is this indictment of Bobby Riggs based on more than the unsworn and unverifiable testimony of a guy who alleges (four decades later) that he eavesdropped on some mobsters talking about Riggs throwing the "Battle of the Sexes" match against Billie Jean King before he had even played Margaret Court?

Yes, it's based on me having watched both matches.

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Well, Billie Jean disagrees with you. I think I'll have to go with her.

Go ahead if you want to be wrong.

(Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, by the way. That's what the President of the United States told me. I think I'll have to go with him.)

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Go ahead if you want to be wrong.

(Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, by the way. That's what the President of the United States told me. I think I'll have to go with him.)

Oh come. The president in question had no direct knowledge, wanted to invade Iraq on any pretext and didn't much care if it was true or false, and was remarkably dim to begin with. Billie Jean King was in a better position to judge Riggs's performance than anyone on earth besides Riggs himself, is smart as a whip, and has less to prove than just about any figure in sports that I can think of. I'm still going with her.

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Oh come. The president in question had no direct knowledge, wanted to invade Iraq on any pretext and didn't much care if it was true or false, and was remarkably dim to begin with. Billie Jean King was in a better position to judge Riggs's performance than anyone on earth besides Riggs himself, is smart as a whip, and has less to prove than just about any figure in sports that I can think of. I'm still going with her.

Oh, I'd say at that moment she had more to prove than any single sports figure in the world.

Billie Jean King. Great tennis player. Legend. Icon. Inspiration. Wanted to beat Riggs on any pretext and didn't much care if it was a thrown match or not.

I know for a fact that you either didn't watch the match, or don't remember the match. Do you know how I know? Because if you had, or did, you'd be agreeing with me. I didn't know Riggs threw it at the time either - I was so caught up in all the pageantry, I didn't really notice (I was also 12 years old).

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I mean Billie Jean has nothing left to prove now. Obviously she had, and knew she had, a lot to prove then. But when she says now that she would bet her life that Riggs didn't tank, and that's what she does say, I think she's owed some deference.

But you're right. I was not a tennis fan in 1973, although I was considerably older than 12, and I didn't watch the match then and haven't watched it since. (I think I was probably busy taking drugs at the time, or possibly having sex. Rock and roll may have come into it as well.) I'm not sure when I'll have time to watch the whole thing, and perhaps you're right and when I do I'll agree with you. But I will watch it, and when I do I'll let you know, one way or the other, and that's a promise. I have no axe to grind here.

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I mean Billie Jean has nothing left to prove now. Obviously she had, and knew she had, a lot to prove then. But when she says now that she would bet her life that Riggs didn't tank, and that's what she does say, I think she's owed some deference.

But you're right. I was not a tennis fan in 1973, although I was considerably older than 12, and I didn't watch the match then and haven't watched it since. (I think I was probably busy taking drugs at the time, or possibly having sex. Rock and roll may have come into it as well.) I'm not sure when I'll have time to watch the whole thing, and perhaps you're right and when I do I'll agree with you. But I will watch it, and when I do I'll let you know, one way or the other, and that's a promise. I have no axe to grind here.

I know you don't have an axe to grind, and that's exactly why I'm showing you *respect* by "knowing" you didn't see the match, because I'm certain that if you did, you'd understand why I'm so cock-sure of myself.

Riggs didn't just miss shots; he tanked shots. Tanked like you wouldn't believe - on several occasions (and several occasions on key points is all the evidence you need), it was almost like he didn't even make a serious effort to fake it - there was no digital replay back then, no 3-second loops of video, etc. He was aiming for the *bottom of the net* on certain points, and believe me, it's not subtle - on some of his shots, incredibly easy shots, his balls bounced on his side of the court before hitting the net, and if you loop those sections of the match, it's obvious he was aiming for the bottom of the net - and he was standing near the service line, returning shots that didn't have any pace on them at all. These were not subtle baseline rallies where he was extended or tired; these were shots that were the very simplest to execute. If you watch his match against Margaret Court played just a few months before, it's even more blatant - he *destroyed* Court, and showed that he had the touch and racket control of an ex-champion; he would no more miss these put-away shots than Bill Russell would miss layups if he were shooting by himself - and not just misses; but banging bricks.

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When I wrote my last installment above, I assumed I'd be able to find video of the 1973 match with ease. As it happens, I can't find it at all, for free or for money. I don't think I could base any kind of fair assessment on clips. Does anyone know where I could find video of the whole match?

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Okay, so as the older tennis guy around here, let me weigh in by saying that, in my opinion it's an absolute coin toss as to whether Riggs tanked or not. I played (very) competitive tennis in HS (NYC champions, Capt of the team, best doubles player in NYC...) '68-70 &, although I moved over to squash in '70, I remained active in tennis circles thru college ('70-74). I watched the match & have seen replays (not recently). I rooted for Billie Jean. I still know one of Riggs' doubles partners. All that by way of saying that I am probably as knowledgable as anyone outside would be & I absolutely think it could be either way.

The only certainties are that Riggs was a heavy gambler, as much capable of tanking &/or hustling as anyone in any game has ever been, and definitely did not play well against Billie Jean. No strategy, no plan, bad shots, looking worn out.... the list goes on & on. Clearly something was wrong & I don't think it can be attributed to King taking him off his game. Was he ill, did he throw it, did he just have one of those days? We'll never know. But he was more awful than he had any obvious reason to be & we all expected a better match. If I absolutely had to choose, my guess would be on the tank. However, I wouldn't bet on it.

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Okay, so as the older tennis guy around here, let me weigh in by saying that, in my opinion it's an absolute coin toss as to whether Riggs tanked or not. I played (very) competitive tennis in HS (NYC champions, Capt of the team, best doubles player in NYC...) '68-70 &, although I moved over to squash in '70, I remained active in tennis circles thru college ('70-74). I watched the match & have seen replays (not recently). I rooted for Billie Jean. I still know one of Riggs' doubles partners. All that by way of saying that I am probably as knowledgable as anyone outside would be & I absolutely think it could be either way.

The only certainties are that Riggs was a heavy gambler, as much capable of tanking &/or hustling as anyone in any game has ever been, and definitely did not play well against Billie Jean. No strategy, no plan, bad shots, looking worn out.... the list goes on & on. Clearly something was wrong & I don't think it can be attributed to King taking him off his game. Was he ill, did he throw it, did he just have one of those days? We'll never know. But he was more awful than he had any obvious reason to be & we all expected a better match. If I absolutely had to choose, my guess would be on the tank. However, I wouldn't bet on it.

Steve, since you were a high-level player, there are several points which should be dead giveaways that Riggs tanked. I can't find the entire match right now either, but there is one video on YouTube which is made with the tank in mind and therefore biased (which is why I didn't even mention its existence). Still, on three of the shots, no matter how biased the video is, it's obvious that Riggs is trying to miss. I'll go ahead and include the video now, just so I can point out those three shots:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PeU8TFC4LQ

1) The backhand serve return at 6:12. He aimed and *followed through* downward. Stop the video at 6:14. Then play it in brief spurts. You can see he backed off (literally, walked backwards), dumped the shot into the bottom of the net, and started walking away *before his shot had even hit the net*. This was a well-planned miss. Then he feigns disappointment by giving this little "Aw, shucks" swing of his racket, and starts walking towards the sidelines. This shot was not a miss; this shot was a tank.

2) The serve and volley at 6:30. During his volley, he swung downwards and actually aimed for the bottom of the net. Stop the video at 6:35. Watch his racket head as soon as he makes contact. That's a dump. He wasn't just aiming for the net; he was aiming for the *bottom* of the net. And he hit it, too. Again he feigns disappointment.

3) The serve and forehand at 6:39. Nobody hits a forehand like that. Stop the video at 6:52. He was nimble enough to backpedal into *perfect* position to drill that forehand down a 60%-open court. It took a seasoned player to take those short, backwards shuffle-steps to *get* into that position, but once *in* that position, a 3.5 club player could have passed King. And what did Riggs do? Aimed for the bottom of the net, with such a small amount of pace that the ball almost didn't even make it to the bottom of the net.

Compare these three shots with the video earlier that year of Riggs playing Margaret Court. No commentary is even necessary. His racket control was positively masterful. The odds of him hitting the three shots like he did in the above video were zero. Margaret Court was the #1 player in the world, and Riggs beat her so badly that it's hard to watch the video.

Look at the point at 4:08 as an example. He serves deeply enough to keep Court back, then drop shots her to get her into the net, and then hits a perfectly controlled backhand passing shot. There are numerous examples like this throughout the video, but all of them display a very fit man in his mid-50s with absolutely superb racket control. Note also that he felt well enough to jump the net after *both* matches - in the King match, he jumped the net immediately after purposely dumping a backhand volley into the net to end it.

I listen to King say that Riggs was trying, and I can see it in her eyes that she doesn't even believe herself. She has to say this, and we all pretty much have to play along with it, even if we don't believe it for a second. There is no good reason to defend Riggs; there is *every* reason to defend King, even now. I'm glad She Won (capital S, capital W), even if she didn't really win (lowercase s, lowercase w). One small step for woman, one giant leap for womankind. Or something like that.

John McEnroe is about the same age now that Bobby Riggs was then - it would be interesting to see him play Serena Williams. He'd certainly have his work cut out for him.

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Don- I don't think there's any doubt that Riggs tanked points, but tanking the match is different. I'm sure he could've given up points for various reasons, including feeling winded or wanting King to get overconfident about the effectiveness of a certain shot. And, it wouldn't have been unusual for him to be so convinced of his superiority to have given points in order to make it more entertaining, not realizing that it would get out of hand. My own skepticism is that I doubt he would have done these things in the 3rd set & I would have expected a more error free attack from him as the match went her way. He could've been ill... that level of sweat from him was unusual as well.

As for the other question at hand.... I think the world of Johnny Mac's ability right now & have watched him play several times during the past 2-3 years. But I fully believe that Serena would kick his ass... easily.

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As for the other question at hand.... I think the world of Johnny Mac's ability right now & have watched him play several times during the past 2-3 years. But I fully believe that Serena would kick his ass... easily.

Wow.  I don't watch much.  Would she overpower him?

Some context:

I enjoy watching women's soccer.  I played in high school and then in college in division 3.  I played in additional leagues with division 1 all american's, some of whom I grew up with.  Abt 6 or 7 yrs after I graduated high school I watched a high school match near our home town with 2 guys I had played with, one of whom became a division 1 all american.  One of the teams was our home town team, and the other was highly rated as was our home town.  

It was revealing.  We all acknowledged those guys were infinitely better than we had been.  All of them.   Skills had advanced at a rapid rate.  Control skills, team skills, understanding of the game skills.  

Of course we were sort of neanderthals when we played....American skills so trailed European and Latin American skills.

Now I watch women's soccer.  Their skills are better than "ours" were...even the guys who were at the all american level, IMHO.

Now the guys of then were faster and stronger than the women of today in most cases, I'm sure.   But they are more skilled in a hundred different ways.   Improvements in skills....maybe somewhat to how the technology and then the game of tennis has changed I guess.

Anyway an interesting comment above.  Serena and Johnny Mac should play.  Bring em on.  Another "battle of the decades" ---decades later.  That would be exciting.

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Don- I don't think there's any doubt that Riggs tanked points, but tanking the match is different. I'm sure he could've given up points for various reasons, including feeling winded or wanting King to get overconfident about the effectiveness of a certain shot. And, it wouldn't have been unusual for him to be so convinced of his superiority to have given points in order to make it more entertaining, not realizing that it would get out of hand. My own skepticism is that I doubt he would have done these things in the 3rd set & I would have expected a more error free attack from him as the match went her way. He could've been ill... that level of sweat from him was unusual as well.

As for the other question at hand.... I think the world of Johnny Mac's ability right now & have watched him play several times during the past 2-3 years. But I fully believe that Serena would kick his ass... easily.

Steve, I can't really address your comments about Riggs-King. As for McEnroe-Williams, I'm inclined to agree with you - the nature of the game has changed, and as I might have mentioned elsewhere, 13-year-old girls are now hitting the ball harder than Rod Laver ever did, due entirely to advances in racket technology. Players who learned to play using wooden rackets played a completely different style of game - I'm glad baseball has forbidden the use of carbon and titanium technology in bats; otherwise, we may well be seeing 700-foot home runs and pitchers literally being killed by line drives. I recently watched the #1 singles player at my son's high school (who is the best junior in the Mid-Atlantic states, and who will be playing singles next year for Virginia Tech), and I remember thinking to myself that he probably would have been ranked #1 in the world (in Men's Open) back in the 1960s. Nobody back then hit as hard as he does and with as much topspin - not Laver, not Rosewall, nobody - the technology just wasn't there. He would beat McEnroe if he played him right now (which does not take anything away from McEnroe, who was NCAA champion during his freshman year at Stanford), and I suspect he might beat Williams too.

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"John McEnroe Refuses To Apologize for Serena Williams Comments" on cbsnews.com

Nor *should* he apologize, and I'll lay out a very simple reason why he shouldn't:

First of all, read the entire interview, in context (it will take you less than 30 seconds) - skip down to the part that says "On calling Serena the best female tennis player in the world" ...

"'But Seriously,' Tennis Great John McEnroe Says He's Seeking 'Inner Peace'" by Lulu Garcia-Navarro on npr.org

It is absurd that the media is trying to make this into another "Bobby Riggs - Billie-Jean King" situation.

All McEnroe did was speak the truth *when asked to do so*. Do you think otherwise?

Suppose a 17-year-old phenom won every junior event (s)he ever played in. 

Would it be wrong to say "[So-and-so] is the best junior player in the world, hands down." - or must you remove the adjective "junior" in this politically correct day-and-age?

Because if that junior played any of The Big Three, the match would be over in less than an hour.

Jiske Griffieon. Know who she is?

She's the best tennis player in the world!

Is that enough, or not? If not, here's your solution: Put everyone in the same tournaments, and double the prize money. That will settle things once-and-for-all.

This entire situation is fabricated by a muckraking journalist and an opportunistic media, looking for controversy to pounce on, even when there is none.

Serena Williams, steroids and all, is the best female tennis player to ever live in absolute terms. And if that's not one hell-of-a-compliment, then I'm afraid you'll need to find your compliments elsewhere.

One other point: Why aren't these politically correct "journalists" reporting on para-athletes? These people are absolutely amazing - here's a thread from 2015 if you wish to read about them.

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Basically, I agree.  Serena, herself, has said that the men's and women's are different games, played at different speeds.  I think that she's openly doubted that she'd get a game against the top 200 male pro players.  Johnny Mac, of course, is entitled to his opinion & may even be correct.  As everyone has pretty much said, its irrelevant & not worth arguing.  

However (you knew something was coming, right?) -- if you think that this tempest in a teapot was started by a "muckraking journalist and an opportunistic media", I think you missed the boat.  Its no accident that Mac has a new book out and understands publicity (& how to choose a friendly target).  Enough said?:rolleyes:

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39 minutes ago, Steve R. said:

However (you knew something was coming, right?) -- if you think that this tempest in a teapot was started by a "muckraking journalist and an opportunistic media", I think you missed the boat.  Its no accident that Mac has a new book out and understands publicity (& how to choose a friendly target).  Enough said? :rolleyes:

I thought about this possibility after I posted - you're probably right, and McEnroe has a good poker face.

Now, as for Ilie Nastase, I understand there are different cultures and different standards, but he's been exposed to enough American culture where he just shouldn't have said what he said.

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