Serena Williams at the 2021 French Open - Day Eight

4 times men and women faced off in tennis

Like in most individual sports, men and women in tennis are never pitted competitively against each other, except in mixed doubles, to ensure a level playing field.

While men's tennis has been popular for more than a century, it's only in the last few decades that women's tennis has grown in popularity. So men vs women's matches have always piqued the imagination of tennis fans. Such matchups have invariably been labeled 'Battle of the Sexes'.

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Here's a look at four such iconic clashes over the years:


#1 Bobby Riggs beat Margaret Court 6-2, 6-1 (1973)

Margaret Court pictured at the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne

One of the first Battle of the Sexes matches that captured everyone's attention involved former men's No. 1 Bobby Riggs. He famously bet on winning the men's singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon in 1939 and ended up doing so. He later became a tennis promoter, hustler and gambler.

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Riggs opined that women's tennis was inferior and that he could 'easily' beat the top women's singles player more than two decades after his retirement. In 1973, he called out Billie Jean King, the top player at the time who was championing equal pay for men and women. Riggs was known for making derogatory comments towards women at the time.

"A women's place is in the kitchen and the bedroom and not necessarily in that order," he once said.

However, after King declined the high-stakes match, as a loss could have derailed her equal-pay movement, Margaret Court stepped in to take on the then 55-year-old Riggs. The then 30-year-old Court was in the midst of earning a seventh year-end No. 1 finish ahead of her meeting with Riggs on Mother's Day in Ramona, California.

Court, who holds the record for most women's singles titles (24), was not interested in King's cause but rather, a lucrative paycheque. She thought she could easily beat an opponent who was almost double her age. She was mistaken, though.

Riggs registered a facile 6-2, 6-1 victory, troubling Court with his mix of delicate drop shots and lobs. The victory earned him a place on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time Magazine.

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#2 Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 (1973)

Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the 'Battle of the Sexes'

Following his unexpected win over Court, Riggs upped the ante, deriding King as the "sex leader of the revolutionary pack" and publicly taunting her.

Court's loss harmed King's equal-pay movement, prompting the then 29-year-old to accept a lucrative winner-takes-all match with Riggs worth $100,000 in prize money. The match was billed as 'The Battle of the Sexes', and a record crowd of over 30,000 came to watch it in Houston, Texas.

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With the oddsmakers favoring him following his win over Court, Riggs started strongly, breaking King to go 3-2 up. However, King started countering Riggs by ditching her attacking game and making him move around the baseline, tiring him out.

Riggs started to serve-and-volley in an attempt to stay competitive, but he couldn't prevent King from winning 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. It was a pivotal moment in the history of women's tennis, as it began to gain the respect it had yearned.

Today in 1973, Billie Jean King beats Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes tennis match in the Astrodome.

A feature film on this match, by the same name (Battle of the Sexes), was released in 2017.


#3 Jimmy Connors beat Martina Navratilova 7-5, 6-2 (1992)

Jimmy Connors beat Martina Navratilova in 1992
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Almost two decades after Riggs' iconic clash with King, a 39-year-old Jimmy Connors took on a 35-year-old Martina Navratilova in another 'Battle of the Sexes' matchup.

Unlike the previous two matchups that had 'political' undertones, this one was purely for fun, entertainment, and of course, money. The matchup had unique rules. Connors was allowed only one serve and a conventional singles court, while Navratilova had two serves and could also hit into the doubles alley.

Despite the handicap, Connors beat his fellow left-hander 7-5, 6-2. However, the match lacked excitement, as it featured two players past their prime and the duel was often slow and lackluster.

The match was in the news almost two decades later, albeit for the wrong reasons, though. Connors, addicted to gambling, 'admitted' that he had bet $1 million that he would beat Navratilova in straight sets and not lose more than eight games.


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#4 Karsten Braasch beat Serena Williams 6-1, Venus Williams 6-2 (1998)

Karsten Braasch beat the Williams sisters in a no-handicap match

The three previous matchups didn't provide a true battle between a male and a female athlete in the prime of their careers and playing without handicaps. That changed in 1998, when the Williams sisters - Venus and Serena - proclaimed that they could beat any male player ranked outside the top 200.

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The challenge was taken up by a then 30-year-old Karsten Braasch, ranked 203 in the world. He took on the Williams sisters, one after the other, on Court 12 at the 1998 Australian Open after a round of golf and two shandys.

Battle of the sexes. 1998. Williams sisters v Karsten Braasch. He was ranked 203rd in the world. He beat Serena 6-1 and beat Venus 6-2.
At the end of the game, Braasch said he actually played like a top 600 player to keep it “fun” and still beat them. Hope this helps. twitter.com/_TRAViS_23/sta…
Nah but Tbh I would really want to watch Serena go up against any top male tennis player or the nba rooks vs the WNBA all-star team to end this debate

Braasch beat a 16-year-old Serena Williams 6-1, having led 5-0. He then beat Serena's 17-year-old sister Venus 6-2. He later explained how the matches came about.

"I was sitting there (in the tournament office) when the girls were saying they could beat any man ranked outside 200. I said ‘I’m 203 in the world and we can do it if you want to'. I (lost in the first round of singles and doubles), so I had another five days in Australia and had nothing to do," Braasch said.

The German later claimed that he won both sets despite playing like a top-600 player to keep the match 'interesting'. Meanwhile, following their emphatic defeats, the Williams sisters 'adjusted' their claim, saying they could beat any male player ranked outside 350.

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Edited by
Nihal Taraporvala
 
 
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