ROBERT LARIMORE RIGGS (February 25, 1918 – October 25, 1995) was
an American tennis champion who was the World No. 1 or the World
co-No. 1 player for three years, first as an amateur in 1939, then as
a professional in 1946 and 1947. He played his first professional
tennis match on December 26, 1941.
As a 21-year-old amateur in 1939, Riggs won Wimbledon , the U.S.
National Championships (now U.S. Open ), and was runner-up at the
French Championships . He was U.S. champion again in 1941 , after a
runner-up finish the year before .
At age 55, he competed in a challenge match against Billie Jean King
, one of the top female players in the world, and lost. Their prime
time "Battle of the Sexes " match in 1973 remains one of the most
famous tennis events of all time, with a $100,000 winner-take-all
* 1.1 Junior career
* 1.2 Playing style
* 1.3 Amateur career
* 1.4 Professional career
* 1.5 Grand Slam
* 1.6 Pro Slam
* 3 Battle of the Sexes
* 4 Death
* 5 Honors
* 6 References
* 7 Sources
* 8 External links
Born and raised in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of
Los Angeles ,
Riggs was the son of a minister and one of six siblings. He was an
excellent table tennis player as a boy and when he began playing
tennis at age eleven, he was quickly befriended and then coached by
Esther Bartosh , who was the third-ranking woman player in Los
Angeles. Depending entirely on speed and ball control, he soon began
to win boys (through 15 years old) and then juniors (through 18 years
old) tournaments. Although it is sometimes said that Riggs was one of
the great tennis players nurtured at the
Tennis Club by
Perry T. Jones and the Southern
Tennis Association , Riggs
writes in his autobiography that for many years Jones considered Riggs
to be too small and not powerful enough to be a top-flight player.
Jack Kramer , however, said in his own autobiography that Jones
turned against Riggs "for being a kid hustler".) After initially
helping Riggs, Jones then refused to sponsor him at the important
Eastern tournaments. With the help of Bartosh and others, Riggs played
in various National Tournaments and by the time he was 16 was the
fifth-ranked junior player in the United States. The next year, he won
his first National Championship , winning the National Juniors by
Joe Hunt in the finals. That same year, 1935, he met Hunt in
17 final-round matches and won all 17 of them.
At 18, Riggs was still a junior but won the Southern
Title and then went East to play on the grass-court circuit in spite
of Jones's opposition. Along the way, he won the U.S. Clay Court
Chicago , beating
Frank Parker in the finals with
drop shots and lobs. Although he had never played on grass courts
before, Riggs won two tournaments and reached the finals of two
others. Although still a junior, he ended the year ranked fourth in
United States Men\'s Rankings . Kramer, who was 3 years younger
than Riggs, writes "I played Riggs a lot then at the Los Angeles
Tennis Club . He liked me personally too, but he'd never give me a
break. For as long as he possibly could, he would beat me at love....
Bobby was always looking down the road. 'I want you to know who's the
boss, for the rest of your life, Kid,' he told me.
Bobby Riggs was
Small in stature, he lacked the overall power of his larger
competitors such as
Don Budge and Kramer but made up for it with
brains, ball control, and speed. A master court strategist and
tactician, he worked his opponent out of position and scored points
with the game's best drop shot and lob as well as punishing ground
strokes that let him come to the net for put-away shots. Kramer, one
of the very few players who was undeniably better than Riggs, writes
that there is a major "misconception" about Riggs. "He didn't play
Harold Solomon style, pitty-pattying the ball around
on dirt. He didn't have the big serve, but he made up for it with some
sneaky first serves and as fine a second serve as I had seen at that
time. When you talk about depth and accuracy both, Riggs' second serve
ranks with the other three best that I ever saw: von Cramm\'s ,
Gonzales\'s , and Newcombe\'s ." In his own autobiography, Riggs
wrote, "In the 1946 match with Budge , I charged the net at every
opportunity. Employing what I called my secret weapon, a hard first
serve, I attacked constantly during my 6–3, 6–1, 6–1 victory."
"Riggs," said Kramer, "was a great champion. He beat Segura . He beat
Budge when Don was just a little bit past his peak. On a long tour, as
up and down as Vines was, I'm not so sure that Riggs wouldn't have
played Elly very close. I'm sure he would have beaten Gonzales —
Bobby was too quick, he had too much control for Pancho — and Laver
and Rosewall and Hoad ."
Kramer went on to say that Riggs "could keep the ball in play, and he
could find ways to control the bigger, more powerful opponent. He
could pin you back by hitting long, down the lines, and then he'd run
you ragged with chips and drop shots. He was outstanding with a volley
from either side, and he could lob as well as any man.... he could
also lob on the run. He could disguise it, and he could hit winning
overheads. They weren't powerful, but they were always on target."
As a 20-year-old amateur, Riggs was part of the American Davis Cup
winning team in 1938. The following year, 1939, he made it to the
finals of the
French Championships but then won the Wimbledon
Championships triple, capturing the singles , the doubles with Elwood
Cooke , and mixed doubles with
Alice Marble , who also won all three
titles. Riggs won $100,000 betting on the triple win, then went on to
win the U.S. Championships , earning the World No. 1 amateur ranking
for 1939. Riggs won four consecutive singles titles at the Eastern
Grass Court Championships between 1937 and 1940. He teamed up with
Alice Marble , his Wimbledon co-champion, to win the 1940 U.S.
Championships mixed doubles title. In 1941, he won his second U.S.
Championships singles title, following which he turned professional.
His new career, however, was quickly interrupted by military service
World War II
World War II . During his military service, Riggs was a
cornerstone member of the 1945 league champion 14th Naval District
After the war, as a professional, Riggs won the US Pro titles in
1946, 1947, and 1949, beating
Don Budge in all three finals. In the
1946 tour against Budge, Riggs won 24 matches and lost 22, plus 1
match tied at
Birmingham, Alabama establishing himself as the best
player in the world (source : American Lawn
Tennis July 15, 1946, page
34). The next year, according to some sources, he beat Budge again by
the same narrow margin. But other sources say that he played Budge
infrequently and that his primary tour was against
Frank Kovacs , whom
he beat 11 matches to 10. Budge had sustained an injury to his right
shoulder in a military training exercise during the war and had never
fully recovered his earlier flexibility. Now, in 1947, according to
Kramer, "Bobby played to Budge's shoulder, lobbed him to death, won
the first twelve matches, thirteen out of the first fourteen, and then
hung on to beat Budge, twenty-four matches to twenty-two." Kramer
himself, however, had a sensational 1947 as an amateur and it is
debatable whether he or Riggs was actually the top player for the year
(both players met three times at the end of December on fast indoor
courts, Riggs won two matches).
The promoter of the two Riggs-Budge tours was Jack Harris. In
mid-1947, he had already made a deal with Kramer that he would turn
professional after the U.S. Championships, regardless of whether he
was the winner. He also told Riggs and Budge that the winner of the
Professional American Singles Championship, to be held at Forest Hills
, would establish the World Champion who would defend his title
against Kramer. For the second year in a row, Riggs defeated Budge.
Harris signed Kramer for 35 percent of the gross receipts and offered
20 percent to Riggs. He then changed his mind, as Riggs recounted in
his autobiography, "saying he could get
Ted Schroeder as one of the
supporting pair, provided both Kramer and I would yield 2½ percent of
our shares in order to build up the offer to Ted. We both agreed —
and then Schroeder refused." Harris then signed
Pancho Segura and
Dinny Pails at $300 ($3,220 today) per week to play the opening match
of the Riggs-Kramer tour. Riggs then went on to play Kramer for 17½
percent of the gross receipts.
On December 26, 1947, Kramer and Riggs embarked on their long tour,
beginning with an easy victory by Riggs in front of 15,000 people, who
had made their way to Madison Square Garden in
New York City
New York City in spite
of a record snowstorm , that had brought the city to a standstill.
On January 16, 1948, Riggs led 8 matches to 6. At the end of 26
matches, Riggs and Kramer had each won 13. By that point, however,
Kramer had stepped up his second serve to take advantage of the fast
indoor courts they played on and was now able to keep Riggs from
advancing to the net. Kramer had also begun the tour by playing a
large part of each match from the baseline. Finally realizing that he
could only beat Riggs from the net, he changed his style of game and
began coming to the net on every point. Riggs was unable to handle
Kramer's overwhelming power game. For the rest of the tour Kramer
dominated Riggs mercilessly, winning 56 out of the last 63 matches.
The final score was 69 victories for Kramer versus 20 for Riggs, the
last time an amateur champion has beaten the reigning professional
king on their first tour. In many of the last matches, it was assumed
by observers that Riggs frequently gave up after falling behind and
let Kramer run out the victory. Riggs says in his autobiography that
Kramer had made "nearly a hundred thousand dollars ... on the American
tour alone, while I took in nearly fifty thousand as my share."
In spite of still beating the great professionals such as Pancho
Pancho Gonzales ,
Jack Kramer or
Frank Kovacs in the
following years, Riggs soon retired from competitive tennis and
briefly took over the job of promoting the professional game.
As a senior player in his 60s and 70s, Riggs won numerous national
titles within various age groups.
SINGLES : 3 TITLES, 2 RUNNERS-UP
5–7, 0–6, 3–6
2–6, 8–6, 3–6, 6–3, 6–2
Welby Van Horn
6–4, 6–2, 6–4
6–4, 8–6, 3–6, 3–6, 5–7
5–7, 6–1, 6–3, 6–3
SINGLES : 3 TITLES, 3 RUNNERS-UP
2–6, 2–6, 2–6
6–3, 6–1, 6–1
3–6, 6–3, 10–8, 4–6, 6–3
12–14, 2–6, 6–3, 3–6
6–2, 4–6, 3–6, 4–6
9–7, 3–6, 6–3, 7–5
Riggs became famous as a hustler and gambler, when in his 1949
autobiography he wrote that he had made $105,000 ($1,808,000 today) in
1939 by betting on himself to win all three Wimbledon championships:
the singles, doubles and mixed doubles. At the time most betting was
illegal in England. From an initial $500 bet on his chances of winning
the singles competition he eventually won the equivalent of $1.5
million in 2010 dollars. According to Riggs,
World War II
World War II kept him
from taking his winnings out of the country, so that by 1946 after the
war had ended, he then had an even larger sum waiting for him in
England as it had been increased by interest.
BATTLE OF THE SEXES
Main article: The
Battle of the Sexes (tennis)
In 1973, Riggs saw an opportunity to both make money and to draw
attention to the sport of tennis. He came out of retirement to
challenge one of the world's greatest female players to a match,
claiming that the female game was inferior and that a top female
player could not beat him, even at the age of 55. He challenged
Margaret Court , 30 years old and the top female player in the world,
and they played on May 13, Mother\'s Day , in Ramona,
Riggs used his drop shots and lobs to keep an unprepared Court off
balance; his easy 6–2, 6–1 victory in less than an hour landed
him on the cover of both
Sports Illustrated and Time magazine. The
match was called the "
Mother's Day Massacre".
Riggs had originally challenged
Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King , but she had
declined. Following Court's loss to Riggs, King accepted his
challenge, and the two met in the
Astrodome on prime time
television on Thursday, September 20, in a match billed as The Battle
of the Sexes . The oddsmakers and writers favored Riggs; he built an
early lead, but King won in straight sets (6–4, 6–3, 6–3) for
the $100,000 winner-take-all prize. Unlike a similar match between
Jimmy Connors and
Martina Navratilova in 1992, in which the rules were
altered to favor the female player, this match was played using the
normal rules of tennis.
According to an extensive article by the
ESPN program Outside the
Lines , Riggs took advantage of the overwhelming odds against King
and threw the match to get his debts to the mob erased. This would
confirm the suspicions held by many of Riggs' peers, including Don
Budge . On the other hand, the article says Riggs' close friend and
estate executor Lornie Kuhle vehemently denied Riggs was ever in debt
to the mob or received a payoff from them.
In a film adaptation of the Battle of the Sexes, Riggs has been
rumored to be played by
Paul Giamatti ,
Will Ferrell and Steve Carell
in three different projects. However, the only project that has been
green-lit for production is the one starring Carell, which will also
Emma Stone as
Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King and will be directed by the
Little Miss Sunshine ,
Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton.
Riggs was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1988. He and Lornie Kuhle
Tennis Club and Museum to increase awareness
of the disease and house his memoirs/trophies. Riggs died on October
25, 1995, at his home in Leucadia, Encinitas,
California , aged 77.
In his final days, Riggs maintained friendly contact with Billie Jean
King, and King phoned him often. She called him shortly before his
death, offering to visit him, but he did not want her to see him in
his condition. She phoned him one last time, the night before his
death and, according to Billie Jean herself in an
about her, the last thing she told Riggs was "I love you. "
Riggs was inducted into the
International Tennis Hall of Fame
International Tennis Hall of Fame in
* ^ A B C Oates, Bob, "Star-Turned Hustler
Bobby Riggs Is Dead :
Tennis: Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion who lost to Billie Jean King
in the \'Battle of the Sexes\' succumbs at 77 after long bout with
Los Angeles Times , October 26, 1995
* ^ A B
United States Lawn
Tennis Association (1972). Official
Tennis (First Edition), p. 425.
* ^ A B Finn, Robin (October 26, 1995). "Irrepressible Riggs
succumbs". The Dispatch. (Lexington, North Carolina). (New York
Times). p. 1B.
* ^ A B "Riggs defeats Cooke to take Wimbledon title". Chicago
Daily Tribune. July 8, 1939. p. 13.
* ^ A B Jares, Joe (September 10, 1973). "Riggs to riches - take
two". p. 24.
* ^ A B "Billie Jean slam-bangs Riggs to defeat". Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette. Associated Press. September 21, 1973. p. 1, sec. 1.
* ^ A B Kirkpatrick, Curry (October 1, 1973). "There she is, Ms.
America". Sports Illustrated. p. 30.
* ^ The Game, My 40 Years in
Jack Kramer with Frank
Deford, page 21
* ^ The Game, My 40 Years in
Jack Kramer with Frank
Deford, page 31
* ^ "Americans sweep 6 Wimbledon titles".
Chicago Sunday Tribune.
July 9, 1939. p. 1, sec. 2.
Tennis Is My Racket, by Bobby Riggs, New York, 1949, page 16.
* ^ "
Bobby Riggs Spoils Jack Kramer\'s Pro Debut, Winning Garden
Match In 4 Sets Before Record Crowd". Times Daily. December 27, 1947.
* ^ Dave Anderson (January 21, 1963). "
Tennis In A Blizzard".
Sports Illustrated . Vol. 18 no. 3. pp. M3–M4.
Tennis Is My Racket, by Bobby Riggs, New York, 1949, page 25.
* ^ Bud Collins (2010). The Bud Collins History of
ed.). : New Chapter Press. pp. 66, 67. ISBN 978-0942257700 .
* ^ Berkow, Ira (April 5, 1973). "Bobby Riggs: male chauvinist or
hustler?". Argus-Press. (Owosso, Michigan). NEA. p. 15.
* ^ Grimsley, Will (June 24, 1977). "Riggs still collects". Reading
Eagle. (Pennsylvania). Associated Press. p. 19.
* ^ "Riggs "Courts" Margaret - then hustles a victory". Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette. Associated Press. May 14, 1973. p. 28.
* ^ A B Kirkpatrick, Curry (May 21, 1973). "Mother\'s Day Ms.
match". Sports Illustrated. p. 34.
* ^ "Time Magazine Cover:
Bobby Riggs – September 10, 1973".
* ^ "Riggs gets backing for tennis match with King". Florence
Times. (Alabama). Associated Press. July 12, 1973. p. 12.
* ^ "Evert claims Riggs refused her challenge". The Bulletin.
(Bend, Oregon). Associated Press. August 2, 1973. p. 11.
* ^ "Las Vegas favors Riggs". Ellensburg Daily Record.
(Washington). UPI. September 20, 1973. p. 8.
* ^ Van Natta, Don Jr. (August 25, 2013). "The Match Maker: Bobby
Riggs, The Mafia and The Battle of the Sexes".
* ^ Kroll, Justin (November 19, 20