‘I want us to be together’
Billie Jean King is a tennis legend, with the American former World no.1, now 73-years-old, winning a whopping 39 Grand Slam titles during her career.
She is probably best known however for her famous 1973 match against male tennis player Bobby Riggs, with upcoming biographical film Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, recounting the historic event.
The 1973 event saw self-professed chauvinist Riggs challenge King to a televised match pitting man against woman once and for all. Billie Jean King has since spoken about the immense pressure she felt, with the match viewed by an estimated 90 million people worldwide. ‘We were fighting so hard to change minds about the value of women,’ she explained. ‘I felt like everybody was depending on me to beat him.’
The Battle of the Sexes, as it is now known, saw Billie Jean King win in straight sets, sparking a national debate about gender equality.
Now, over 40 years later, the story is finally being told, with Billie Jean King joining Emma Stone, Shonda Rhimes and co-director Valerie Faris at a panel discussion in New York this week to talk about the upcoming film.
A common question from the audience was for King’s thoughts on John McEnroe, the retired US tennis player-turned-commentator who echoed the Bobby Riggs mentality this year by announcing that No.1 female seed Serena Williams would be ranked ‘like 700 in the world’ if she had to play on the men’s circuit.
‘You notice the guys bring it up,’ Billie Jean King stated. ‘We don’t bring it up. We don’t say we’re better than you. We know it.’
She continued: ‘I didn’t want to play Bobby Riggs. I hate this man-versus-women thing. I want us to be together. It gets me crazy. We can’t beat them. The top women cannot beat the top men. We never claimed we did. Ever. They keep bringing it up, They want attention. We’re talking about John. He gets exactly what he wants. It’s attention and fear.’
‘I would like to see John McEnroe win a Grand Slam tournament while pregnant,’ added Shonda Rhimes, referencing Serena’s win at the Australian Open this January while she was two months pregnant.