This Day in History (20-Sep-1973) – King triumphs in Battle of Sexes

In 1961, at age 17, during her first outing to Wimbledon, Billie Jean King  won the women’s doubles title. King would rack up a total of 20 Wimbledon victories, in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, over the course of her trailblazing career. In 1971, she became the first female athlete to earn more than $100,000 in prize money in a single season. In 1972, she was the first woman to be chosen Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year” and in 1973, she became the first president of the Women’s Tennis Association. However, significant pay disparities still existed between men and women athletes and King lobbied hard for change. In 1973, the U.S. Open became the first major tennis tournament to hand out the same amount of prize money to winners of both sexes. Bobby Riggs, 55, a 1939 Wimbledon champion,  a former No. 1 ranked men’s player and a self-proclaimed male chauvinist, not agreeing with equality of women players boasted that women were inferior, that they couldn’t handle the pressure of the game and that even at his age he could beat any female player. King challenged the Rigg’s claim.

On this day in 1973, a highly publicized “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match was held at Houstan, Texas. The match was a huge media event, witnessed in person by over 30,000 spectators and by another 50 million TV viewers worldwide. King made a Cleopatra-style entrance on a gold litter carried by men dressed as ancient slaves, while Riggs arrived in a rickshaw pulled by female models. Legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell called the match, in which King beat Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. King’s achievement not only helped legitimize women’s professional tennis and female athletes, but it was seen as a victory for women’s rights in general.

King also established a sports foundation and magazine for women and a team tennis league. In 1974, as a coach of the Philadelphia Freedoms, one of the teams in the league, she became the first woman to head up a professional co-ed team. The “mother of modern sports” retired from tennis with 39 Grand Slam career titles. In 2006, the USTA National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open, was renamed in King’s honor.

 

Reference:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/king-triumphs-in-battle-of-sexes

https://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016060.html

This Day in History (9-Jul-1877) – Wimbledon tournament begins

In 1868, the All England Club was established outside London. The club was originally founded to promote croquet, another lawn sport, but the growing popularity of tennis led it to incorporate tennis lawns into its facilities. In 1877, the All England Club published an announcement in the weekly sporting magazine The Field that read: “The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, propose to hold a lawn tennis meeting open to all amateurs, on Monday, July 9, and following days. Entrance fee, one pound, one shilling. Please bring own rackets and “shoes without heels”. Balls would be provided by the club gardener.” The All English Club purchased a 25-guinea trophy and drew up formal rules for tennis. It decided on a rectangular court 78 feet long by 27 feet wide; adapted the real tennis method of scoring based on a clock face—i.e., 15, 30, 40, game; established that the first to win six games wins a set; and allowed the server one fault. These decisions, largely the work of club member Dr. Henry Jones, remain part of the modern rules.

Twenty-two men registered for the tournament, but only 21 showed up. Semifinals were held on July 12, but then the tournament was suspended to leave the London sporting scene free for the Eton vs. Harrow cricket match played on Friday and Saturday. The final was scheduled for Monday, July 16, but, in what would become a common occurrence in future Wimbledon tournaments, the match was rained out. It was rescheduled for July 19, and on that day some 200 spectators paid a shilling each to see William Marshall, a Cambridge tennis “Blue,” battle W. Spencer Gore, an Old Harrovian racket player. In a final that lasted only 48 minutes, the Gore dominated with his strong volleying game, crushing Marshall, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

In 1884, the Lady’s Singles was introduced at Wimbledon, and Maud Watson won the first championship. That year, the national men’s doubles championship was also played at Wimbledon for the first time after several years at Oxford. By the early 1900s, Wimbledon had graduated from all-England to all-world status. Mixed doubles and women’s doubles were inaugurated in 1913.

Reference:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/wimbledon-tournament-begins

http://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/atoz/history.html