Houston Matters

The ‘Battle of the Sexes’ was 50 years ago today — tennis has never been the same

We remember Billie Jean King’s defeat of Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome in 1973 and consider its impact with Houston-area tennis great Zina Garrison.


Battle of the Sexes Tennis Match at the Astrodome
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The “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome in 1973.


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On this date 50 years ago, in 1973, Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes,” a tennis match in front of more than 30,000 people at the Astrodome and tens of millions more on TV.

It was a winner-take-all match with a $100,000 prize. Riggs played up his male chauvinistic persona. King simply played great tennis and soundly defeated Riggs in three straight sets.

Battle of the Sexes - Billie Jean King And Bobby Riggs
Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs smile during a news conference in New York to publicize their upcoming “Battle of the Sexes” match at the Houston Astrodome.

It was a huge moment for women's equality, women in sport, and for tennis in general.

In the audio above, we hear from Dan Lovett, who was in attendance that day sitting on press row next to Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell, who broadcast the match nationwide on ABC. Lovett, who's retired now, worked for KTRK Channel 13 at the time. He shared his memories with Michael Hagerty in 2017.

Houston's Zina Garrison during the 1993 U.S. Open.
Elise Amendola/AP
Houston’s Zina Garrison during the 1993 U.S. Open.

Then, we talk with Houston-area tennis great Zina Garrison, who won Olympic gold in doubles tennis in 1988 and then won three Grand Slam mixed doubles tournaments during her professional career. She also reached the Wimbledon singles final in 1990.

Since retiring, she established a homeless foundation and a tennis academy.

Tonight, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the King-Riggs match, Garrison is taking part in an event at The MATCH held by the Astrodome Conservancy, which includes a screening of the 2017 film called The Battle of the Sexes, that starred Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs.

We discuss with Garrison the legacy of that historic match, how women’s tennis has changed in the five decades since, and her longtime friendship with King.

Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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