NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!
groundbreaking Tennis star Billie Jean King Beat former Men’s Champion “Boorish” Bobby Riggs in a highly publicized match dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes” on this day in history, September 20, 1973.
The TV sports spectacle proved to be a turning point in the fight for equality for women in athletics.
King won the tennis match in straight sets (6-4, 6-3, 6-3) in front of a crowd of more than 30,000 the Houston Astrodome and millions more on TV across the country and around the world.
“Not a day has gone by that someone hasn’t asked me about this game,” King said in an emailed comment to Fox News Digital this week.
“Fifty million people in the United States and an estimated 90 million people worldwide have tuned in,” reads King’s website about the game.
It was “one of the most watched televised sporting events of all time” and “no tennis match before or after was watched by so many”.
Ahead of the ABC primetime broadcast, both athletes hammered for the cameras.
“King made a Cleopatra-style appearance on a gold stretcher carried by men dressed as old slaves,” History.com writes, “while Riggs arrived in a rickshaw pulled by female models.”
Acclaimed sportscaster Howard Cosell announced the match and added a touch of grandeur to the celebrations.
The then 29-year-old King found himself in the middle of a dominating run. The California native won the French Open, the US Open and Wimbledon in 1972.
She defended her Wimbledon title just two months before the “battle of the sexes” while winning eight other Grand Slam championships in her career.
Riggs, who was 55 at the time of the game, had been the world’s top tennis player in 1946 and 1947.
He made a big entrance into the international spotlight when he won Wimbledon in 1939 as a 21-year-old amateur.
Riggs, who died in 1995, was also an outspoken and self-proclaimed male chauvinist who had publicly disparaged female athletes. He gave King a giant candy lollipop that said “Sugar Daddy” before the game.
His rough reputation made King’s victory taste a lot sweeter to her supporters around the world.
Adding to her lifetime recognition, she snagged a $100,000 payday in the winners’ take-all contest.
“This event was like no other before,” said Neil Leifer, longtime Sports Illustrated photographer, in the magazine’s July recap of the event.
“No one had ever held a tennis match in a stadium like this. It was a Hollywood production.”
Despite the obvious showmanship, the matching served to legitimize the skills of female competitors.
It was played just a year after the passage of the 1972 Education Amendments, best known for its Title IX, which opened up athletic opportunities for women in college.
“It was about social change, much more than tennis,” King has often said.
She saw it as a win for female athletes everywhere.
She said, as her own website notes, “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that game. It would ruin women’s [tennis] Tour and affect the self-esteem of all women. Beating a 55-year-old wasn’t a thrill for me. The thrill was introducing a lot of new people to tennis.”
“It was about social change, much more than tennis.”
King earned more than $100,000 in prize money in 1971 and is credited with being the first female athlete to reach that milestone.
“However, there was still a significant pay gap between male and female athletes, and King was a strong advocate for change,” writes History.com.
“In 1973, the US Open was the first major tennis tournament to award equal prize money to winners of both sexes.”
King continues to be a trailblazer for many people around the world to this day. As she wrote in her autobiography All In, published last year, she told her mother as a young child, “Mom, I’m going to do something great with my life – I just know it!
This included being the No. 1 tennis player in the world.