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Reflecting on the ‘Battle of the Sexes,’ 43 years later

It’s been 43 years since tennis legend Billie Jean King took the court against Bobby Riggs for the “Battle of the Sexes” at the Houston Astrodome in front of more than 30,000 fans, and nearly 50 million more watching on their television sets at home. It was 1973 and King—then 29 years old—was up against the tough test of an overtly confident Riggs, then 55.

The late-September match was the second of its kind that year for Riggs—a former world No. 1—as he had previously defeated renowned tennis champion Margaret Court in May. Just weeks prior to her match with Riggs, the newly crowned Wimbledon champion King was in the midst of spearheading the effort to create the WTA, while also advocating for equal prize money for men and women, which she saw come to fruition at the 1973 U.S. Open.

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Despite the progress for women in tennis that King had already triggered, there was more for her to prove in her match against Riggs. “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match,” she later said. “It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self esteem.”

The eventual 12-time Grand Slam singles champion welcomed the challenge that Riggs presented, handily vanquishing him, 6–4, 6–3, 6–3, to collect the $100,000 purse and achieve an unprecedented victory for women across all sports.

In the years that have since passed, King—who retired from professional tennis in 1983 after becoming the first female athlete to earn more than $100,000 in prize money—has remained an advocate for equal rights in tennis and inspired others in her sport to act similarly. King’s pioneering efforts ultimately culminated in pay parity at each of the major tennis tournaments, as the Australian Open and French Open adopted equal pay in 2001 and 2006, respectively, while Wimbledon at last followed suit in 2007.

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The famed “Battle of the Sexes” heroics of King, who remains an icon in women’s sports, will make the leap to the big screen. King will be portrayed by actress Emma Stone in an upcoming sports comedy-drama film on the event, which is set to be released in 2017.

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