Monday, August 26, 2013


I read Don Van Natta's Jr.'s story "The Match Maker: Bobby Riggs, The Mafia and The Battle of the Sexes" last night and I have to say it didn't ring true to me. (Billie Jean King would bet her life Riggs didn't throw the match for money.) My brother made a good point that it would be worth watching how he crushed Margaret Court shortly before the match to try to gauge whether or not his lopsided loss against Billie Jean was plausible or not. (He couldn't have gotten that much worse amd p;der so quickly.) I always figured Court got nervous and choked, whereas King trained hard and rose to the occasion. But either way, the story is worth a look even if it sounds a little too made-for-Hollywood to be true.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

Thanks for sending me this: VERY interesting.

I may have told you this before, but I did see the Margaret Court match on television. Riggs controlled the match from start to finish. But in most aspects they were fairly evenly matched. Similar power, similar court coverage, etc. Where Riggs dominated the match, though, was with his court smarts and his bag of tricks. Think Martina Hingis at her best. He mixed up his shots and kept her off-balance, lobbed the ball into the sun, etc., etc.

According to the article, he trained seriously for the match, and the consensus at the time was that Court didn't. She thought it was a for-fun exhibition match and was taken by surprise when interest in it suddenly mushroomed. Had she trained as seriously as Riggs, he still might have beaten her, but she would have made it much more competitive.

In Jack Kramer's autobiography, he says that the male tennis players were stunned by Riggs' loss to King and, almost to a man, were convinced that Riggs had thrown the match. The problem though, Kramer said, was that it clearly was not in Riggs' interest to lose the match. If he had won, the possibilities were endless: Riggs vs. King, the rematch! Riggs vs. Court, the rematch! Riggs vs. Evert on clay! Riggs vs. Navratilova on grass!

This article does give us a reason why he might have thrown the King match. Another possibility, though, is that the ease with which he was able to beat Court led him to underestimate King. He knew there would be more of a future payday if the match with King was close, so when he was having too much fun being a celebrity to train properly he didn't worry. If the match with King was closer than the one with Court: all the better. He may even have had plans to appear to be losing, then stage a magnificent comeback. The look that King saw in his eyes during the changeovers may have come from realizing that he wasn't going to be able to stage a comeback of any sort.

After the match, the word clearly went out among women tennis players that no one else was to even consider playing Riggs. That tells me King knew she lucked out, and if any reputable player had given Riggs a second chance the results would be a hell of a lot closer.

I think King's game matched up better against Riggs than Court's did. (And King probably spent hours working on with strategies for dealing with Riggs' bag of tricks.) So if Riggs had been playing his best, I think King still beats him. But it would have been a much closer match.