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King’s ransom for Billie Jean’s winning racquet

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The racquet used by Billie Jean King to defeat Bobby Riggs in a historic tennis match that reached show business proportions

A historic Wilson wooden tennis racquet was auctioned by Bonham’s in New York on December 6 for $125000 (about R1.6million). This was the racquet used by Billie Jean King to defeat Bobby Riggs in a historic tennis match that reached show business proportions, the co-called Battle of the Sexes in September 1973.

The price fetched is believed to be the highest price yet paid for a female sports star’s memorabilia.

The racquet was used by King in the globally televised match in 1973, watched by 30000 people at the Houston Astrodome, between 55-year-old Riggs (then one of the world’s top male veteran players) and 29-year-old King. Riggs had already easily defeated female tennis legend Margaret Court, who had been ill-prepared and overwhelmed by the razzmatazz, a few months earlier, and then challenged another tennis queen of the day, King, so he could again show women were no match for men on court.

He had to eat his words, though, as King beat him in three straight sets. Later there were rumours Riggs had “thrown” the match as he had placed huge bets on King winning, but this was never proved.

In its day, King’s win was considered a milestone in public acceptance of women’s tennis, and she subsequently became a leading figure in the successful campaign to raise the championship prize money for women to match that of men.

King, now 75, won 39 Grand Slam titles in her career. Riggs, who died in 1995, played mainly in the amateur era of tennis and was the world’s top male amateur player after winning the singles, doubles and mixed-doubles titles at Wimbledon in 1939, and later claimed three US Pro singles championships as well.

Now the historic match has been made the subject of a movie, Battle of the Sexes.

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