Talented Very talented. A woman who in the midst of the ’70s became an icon of sport and feminism, a movement that was not even close to glimpsing what today is a fact, a reality that is imposed. Its importance transcended sport to become a beacon for the thousands and thousands of women who fought for a place, for a space, for recognition. Something that even today, as hard as it may be to understand, still has resistance. That was … rather, that is Billie Jean King.
In truth, his real name is Billie Jean Moffitt. He was born on November 22, 1943 in California, United States. His parents instilled in him a love of sports. Bill, his father, was a firefighter and basketball player. Betty, her mother, a swimmer. His younger brother, Randy, a baseball player in the League (from 1972 to 1983). Early on, at age 11, as she excelled in basketball and softball, her friend Susan Williams invited her to play tennis, and from then on, everything changed. Forever. First, he did it with a borrowed racket that he was able to replace later when he bought a new one, the product of doing various jobs of his own accord. His first serves, drives, setbacks, volleys and other natural blows were delivered on the public courts of Long Beach. She was so convinced that she always warned her mother that she would be the number one in the world. He was not wrong. He was not wrong.
He had his tennis baptism in the 1959 United States Championship. He was 15 years old at the time. She won her first Wimbledon Women’s Doubles title, with Karen Hantze two years later, in 1961.
In 1965 and after marrying Larry King, a law student, her last name was changed: it stopped being Moffitt and became Billie Jean King.
He won his first singles title at Wimbledon in 1966. He won all three modalities (single, doubles and mixed doubles) in 1972. And in 1979 he added his 20th conquest at All England, the iconic London pasture, with Martina Navratilova as a partner.
In 24 years of career, the American was one of the main figures in the ’60s and’ 70s, just when the transition from amateurism to the professional field of tennis occurred. The first step, by the way, was taken by men and women joined a few months later, between 1972 and 1973.
Billie Jean King he had the pleasure of winning all four Grand Slam tournaments at least once, in a triumphant course that began in 1966 at the British Open and ended in the same central court of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London in 1975.
In those nine years, the American won Wimbledon six times (1966, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1973 and 1975), cuatro US Open (1967, 1971, 1972 and 1974), an Australian Open (1968) and a Roland Garros (1972). Twelve great titles achieved this legend that, while showing off on the courts, was going to change the history of tennis on September 20, 1973.
Robert Larrimore “Bobby” Riggs had been a tennis player in the 1930s and 1940s. Born February 25, 1918 in Lincoln Heights, the oldest neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, in the days when King excelled, was retired and dedicated to playing with his friends and living a dandy life. Times when his tongue seemed sharp (today he would be considered an inveterate misogynist) Riggs it raised the supposed superiority of the masucline gender. “I want to prove that women are bad and suck”he repeated in an attempt to appear funny and transgressive. And it added: “American women are the most privileged and they are still not satisfied, they want more; you have to stop them right now “. So, after his 50 years and without the physique that elevated him to the number 1 in the world and to win 99 titles in his career, Riggs was dedicated to other tasks. Before his retirement in 1959, Riggs was already famous for his attachment to the world of gambling and even as a quirky con man. For instance, in 1939, he came to Wimbledon, looked at the betting quotes, and realized that no one had ever won singles, doubles, and mixed at All England. Gambling was already legal at Wimbledon. Riggs bet 100 pounds in his favor on a mission to win the triple crown. He won all three titles and pocketed $ 100,000, as opposed to the 150 pounds he got for winning at the Cathedral of Tennis.
In 1973 he decided to play again just to demonstrate his supposed superiority. The first challenge was made to the Australian Margaret Court, one of the great players of all time (she added 24 Grand Slam titles), whom she easily defeated on May 13, 1973, a day that became known as “The Mother’s Day Massacre”. After that 6-2 and 6-1 Against the Australian, ego and arrogance elevated Riggs to another level that led him to challenge Billie Jean King, after Chris Evert refused to give him a match and, of course, significance.
The game against King, then number 1 in the world, became known as “The Battle of the Sexes” and was played at the Astrodome Arena in Houston, Texas, in an atmosphere that became a media circus. It was the duel between a chauvinist against a feminist who fought for the equality that his misogynistic rival despised. The match-show was guaranteed before its start. For King it was a great opportunity to openly express his ideas and show the world something that, by then, was already making noise: women earned around eight times less than men.
On September 20, 1973, it was played before 30,472 people who witnessed the match and the television audience exceeded 80 million viewers. Total record for those times.
In three sets, Billie Jean King crushed Bobby Riggs for 6-4, 6-3 and 6-3. “It wasn’t about tennis. It was about achieving social change. That was clear to me when I entered the court.”said the tennis player. The prize money was substantial: $ 100,000. But there was much more at stake.
As a correlate of this story, the United States Open that same year would become the first Grand Slam tournament to distribute the same prize money for men and women. In the book that King wrote years later to reconstruct “The Battle of the Sexes,” she said that losing to a macho like Bobby Riggs would mean going back several years in time for women. “My victory could stop the women’s liberation movement for at least 20 years”King said. And I add: “I felt that I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I thought that if I lost we could go back 50 years, it would have ruined everything we have traveled and affected the self-esteem of all women.”.
That victory elevated her to the status of champion of women and of an incipient feminist movement that was beginning to take the first steps in a long battle for equality.
Earlier, in 1970, King had led the fight of nine women who decided not to participate in the tournaments organized by the United States Tennis Association (USTA, for its name in English), at the risk of losing their rankings or not playing the Grand Slams, to create a women’s circuit and, later, found the WTA, in June 1973, to become independent from men’s tennis.
In 2017, his story (in 2013 a documentary was made about that visagra party) was made into a film in a movie starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell. “The underlying theme is much more than a mere match: it marked the birth of women’s professional tennis,” King said when the film was released at the Toronto Film Festival.
His imprint was so great and decisive that, Since 2020, the American tennis player gives her name to the most important tournament of countries for women’s teams: the Federation Cup.
“Champion on the track and pioneer off it, Billie Jean King is an equality activist who has dedicated her life to fighting discrimination in all its forms. The values she represents symbolize the philosophy of a championship that has evolved into to become the largest annual international team competition in women’s tennis “, described the International Tennis Federation (ITF) when making the official announcement.
Before, in 2006, the tennis complex that is located in the New York borough of Queens began to carry its DNA: the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. For this reason, it is considered as the “Owner” de Flushing Meadows. Now, a few weeks ago, he received the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, at the Sports Illustrated Awards (Tom Brady was named Sportsman of 2021).
“Thanks to what we achieved then, women began to be valued for their talent and not for their legs”he said years after winning that battle. He was not wrong. He was not wrong.
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Who is Billie Jean King, the former tennis player who received the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award?