In 1957 Althea Gibson became the first black woman to win Wimbledon, making something like 75 dollars for her troubles plus room and board. Two months previously in Rome, an Italian player had suggested that Althea could easily beat me, as I was among the worst players on the tour. I used to regularly hit with Althea and we were friends. We made a one-dollar bet and played in a side court so no one would notice us. I won in straight sets. Mind you, it was on clay, my specialty.
Which brings us up to the $64 question. Was the 1973 Battle of the Sexes in front of 30,000 fans on the level? Bobby by then was 55, and la King was 26. It was no lock, so what Riggs did was make it a lock by placing an enormous bet on his opponent. Riggs didn”t owe money”at least he never did when I knew him”so the tale that he owed the Mafia is wrong. What he most likely did was to have strong-arm guys place bets for him. An expert such as Jack Kramer said it was a fix, with Bobby missing too many easy shots. What Bobby actually did in order to make it look perfect was not to touch a racquet and not train at all for months before he set up the match. He looked slow, unsure of his shots, without touch or any agility around the court”exactly the way a player is when out of practice.
Ironically, la King also played badly, because she was too nervous, just like the great Margaret Court had been previously when Riggs had slaughtered her”for no money. Looking back it was the perfect con. He didn”t train and made it look genuine. What would have happened had he been in tennis shape? Well, there’s no way of telling, but the fact that it was never going to be a lock made Bobby go for the sure thing: defeat. And he cashed in on it. The women got the bragging rights, Bobby got his dough, and we have had to endure the BS about women’s power ever since. OK, Raimondo?
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