A half-century ago, in a historic match dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes,” women’s tennis champion Billie Jean King beat men’s tennis great Bobby Riggs in three straight sets. More than a sporting event, the exhibition was an opportunity for King to advance the women’s rights movement and draw attention to the gender disparity in tennis.
The widely publicized match took place on Sept. 20, 1973, at Houston’s Astrodome. King was 29 and the No. 1 women’s player in the world. Riggs, then 55 and a thorn in the side of feminists, had been a top men’s player in the late 1930s and ‘40s.
At the end of the two-hour match, King defeated Riggs 6‐4, 6‐3, 6‐3 in what The New York Times described at the time as an “atmosphere more suited for a circus than a sports event.” The Times reported there were more than 30,000 people watching in the stadium that day — the largest single attendance for a tennis match — along with millions more viewing the event on national television and countless others watching via satellite in 36 other countries.?
In a message shared Wednesday, King reflected on the event, saying it was “more than a tennis match.”
“It was a catalyst for social change & one of the most important days of my life,” she wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We have come a long way since 1973, but we are not done yet. Let’s keep going for it.”?
In 1973, following a push from King, the U.S. Tennis Association made that year’s U.S. Open the first sporting event to offer equal prize money to women and men. Equal pay came decades later in the other three Grand Slam tournaments.?
In June, the Women’s Tennis Association, which was founded by King in 1973, pledged to have equal prize money for women at more top-tier events over the next decade. One part of the plan, the Florida-based organization announced, is to have matching payouts for women and men across all rounds of singles at the joint men and women’s 1000 and 500 events, which are the two levels just below the four Grand Slams.
Thanks in large part to King, female professional tennis players are among the best-paid female athletes. According to a December article in Forbes about the salaries of female athletes, tennis traditionally has the narrowest gender pay gap of any major sport. In fact, in Forbes' 2022 list of the 25 highest-paid female athletes, 12 are tennis players, including the top two.