Bobby Riggs

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Bobby Riggs

Robert Larimore "Bobby" Riggs (February 25, 1918 - October 25, 1995) was a 1930s/40s tennis champion who gained even more fame in 1973 at the age of 55 as a result of challenge matches against two of the top female players in the world.

Legitimate Career

Riggs was born in Los Angeles, California. Small in stature, he lacked the power of his much larger competitors such as Don Budge and Jack Kramer but made up for it with brains and speed. A master court strategist and tactician, he worked the opposition out of position and scored points with the game's best drop shot from both the forehand and the backhand, as well as the game's best lob.

Riggs was part of the American Davis Cup winning team in 1938 and the following year he made it to the finals of the French Open but then won the Wimbledon Championships triple, capturing the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles. He went on to win the US Open, earning the number 1 world ranking for 1939.

Riggs teamed up with Alice Marble, his Wimbledon co-champion, to win the 1940 US Open mixed doubles championship. In 1941, he won his second US Open singles title following which he turned professional. As a pro, he won the National Singles Championship in 1946, 1947, and 1949, and for a few years in the mid-40s, while touring against Don Budge and a few other professionals such as Pancho Segura, Riggs was arguably the best player in the world. He soon retired from competitive tennis, however, and briefly took over the job of promoting the professional game.

Tennis Hustler

For many years while in retirement Riggs was a well-known tennis hustler and made a living by placing bets on himself to win matches against other, apparently better players. In order to entice fresh victims to play him, he would handicap himself with such weird devices as using a frying pan instead of a tennis racquet for the match. Whatever the handicap, Riggs generally won his bets.

A master promoter of himself and the game, in 1973 he saw an opportunity to make money and to elevate the popularity of a sport he loved. Although 55 years old, he deliberately played the male chauvinist card and came out of retirement to challenge one of the world's greatest female players to a match, claiming that the female game was inferior and that a top female player couldn’t beat him even at the age of 55. The cagey Riggs challenged Margaret Smith Court, the mother of three children who at the time was recovering from an injury. In their May 13, 1973 Mother's Day match in Ramona, California, Riggs used his patented drop shots and lobs, referred to by some in the press as rinky-dink tennis, to keep an unprepared Margaret Court off balance. His easy 6-2, 6-1 victory landed Riggs on the cover of both Sports Illustrated and Time magazine.

Battle of the Sexes

Suddenly in the national limelight, Riggs taunted all female tennis players, prompting Billie Jean King to accept a lucrative financial offer to play Riggs in a nationally televised match that the promoters dubbed as the "Battle of the Sexes." On September 20th, at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, King entered the arena in Cleopatra style, carried aloft in a chair held by four bare-chested muscle men dressed in the garb of ancient slaves. Riggs followed in a rickshaw drawn by a bevy of gorgeous scantily-clad models. When the two got down to serious tennis, King had learned from Margaret Court's humiliation and was ready for Riggs' style of game. She thrashed him 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

These matches, instigated solely by the consummate showmanship of Bobby Riggs, did more to increase interest in the game of tennis, in particular women's tennis, than any prior championship or other competition had been able to do up to that time. In 1985 at age 67, Bobby Riggs got himself back in the tennis spotlight when he partnered with Vitas Gerulaitis to launch another challenge to female players. However, his return to the public eye was short lived when they lost their doubles match against Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver.

As a Senior player in his 60s and 70s Riggs won numerous national titles within various age groups.

Bobby Riggs died of cancer in 1995 in Leucadia, California. A 2001 ABC television docudrama titled When Billie Beat Bobby recounted the famous 1973 match.

Bobby Riggs was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1967.nl:Bobby Riggs

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