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Bobby Riggs: Wikis


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Robert Larimore "Bobby" Riggs (February 25, 1918 – October 25, 1995) was a 1930s–40s tennis player who was the World No. 1 or the co-World No. 1 player for three years, first as an amateur in 1941, then as a professional in 1946 and 1947. He played his first professional tennis match on December 26, 1941.

After being mostly forgotten for many years, he gained far more fame in 1973 at the age of 55 by challenge matches against two of the top female players in the world. "The Battle of the Sexes" match against Billie Jean King was one of the most famous tennis events of all time.

Jack Kramer in his 1979 autobiography called Riggs "the most underrated of all the top players" and said, perhaps surprisingly, that he considers Riggs to be one of the six best players of all time. He went on to say that Riggs at his best was probably even better than Pancho Gonzales, a man still considered by some to have been the greatest player of all time.[1]


Legitimate career

Riggs was born in Los Angeles, 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 11, 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 by Perry T. Jones and the Southern California 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 autobiography that Jones turned against Riggs "for being a kid hustler".)[2] After initially helping Riggs, therefore, Jones then refused to sponsor him in the important eastern tournaments. With the help of Bartosh and other mentors, however, 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 beating 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 California men's 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 Courts Championship in 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 the United States men's rankings. Kramer, who was 3 years younger than Riggs, writes "I played Riggs a lot then. 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 always candid." [3]

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 some rinky-dink 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 [for the United States Pro Championship], 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, he made it only to the finals of the French Championships but then won the Wimbledon Championships triple, capturing the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles. He went on to win the U.S. Championships, earning the World No. 1 amateur ranking for 1939. Riggs 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 during World War II.

After the war, as a professional, Riggs won the Professional American Singles Championship in 1946, 1947, and 1949. 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 2-1/2 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 ($2,862 in current dollar terms) per week to play the opening match of the Riggs-Kramer tour. Riggs then went on to play Kramer for 17-1/2 percent of the gross receipts. [4]

On December 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 in spite of a record snowstorm that had brought the city to a standstill. On January 16, 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 and only 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."[5]

In spite of still beating the great professionals such as Pancho Segura, 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.

Tennis hustler

Riggs became famous as a hustler and gambler, when, in his 1949 autobiography, he wrote that he had made $105,000 ($1,611,000 in current dollar terms) in 1939 by betting on himself at Wimbledon to win all three championships: the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. Betting is legal in England, and he parlayed a modest $500 initial bet on his chances of winning the singles competition into a sum that would be equivalent to at least $1.5 million in 2010 dollars. According to Riggs, World War II kept him from taking his winnings out of the country, so that by 1946, when the war had ended, he then had an even larger sum waiting for him in England, fattened by compounding interest.

For many years while in retirement, Riggs was a well-known golf and tennis hustler and made a living by placing bets on himself to win matches against other, apparently better, players. To entice fresh victims to play him, he would handicap himself with weird devices like using a frying pan instead of a tennis racquet for the match or playing a round of golf with only one club. Whatever the handicap, Riggs generally won his bets.

Battle of the Sexes

A master promoter of himself and the game, Riggs saw an opportunity in 1973 to make money and to elevate the popularity of a sport he loved. Although 55 years old, he deliberately played the male chauvinist card and 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. The cagey Riggs challenged Margaret Court, 30 years old and the top female player in the world. In their May 13, 1973, Mother's Day match in Ramona, California, Riggs used his drop shots and lobs to keep an unprepared Court off balance. His easy 6–2, 6–1 victory landed Riggs on the cover of both Sports Illustrated and Time magazine.

Riggs had originally challenged Billie Jean King to a match, but King had declined. Following the embarrassing (to the women's pro tennis world) loss by Court to Riggs, King accepted his challenge, and on September 20, 1973, the two met in the Houston Astrodome to play what may well be the most famous tennis match of all time. King beat Riggs in the match forever known as The Battle of the Sexes 6–4, 6–3, 6–3. Unlike a match between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova in 1992, in which Connors was allowed only one serve per point and Navratilova was allowed to hit into half the doubles court, this match was played using the normal rules of tennis.


Riggs was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1988. He founded the Bobby Riggs Tennis Museum Foundation to increase awareness of the disease. Riggs died of the cancer October 25, 1995, in 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 HBO documentary about her, the last thing she told Riggs was "I love you." (Interview with Billie Jean King, USA US Open telecast, August 28, 2006)

Riggs was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1967.


  1. ^ Writing in 1979, Kramer considered the best ever to have been either Don Budge (for consistent play) or Ellsworth Vines (at the height of his game). The next four best were, chronologically, Bill Tilden, Fred Perry, Riggs, and Pancho Gonzales. After these six came the "second echelon" of Rod Laver, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Gottfried von Cramm, Ted Schroeder, Jack Crawford, Pancho Segura, Frank Sedgman, Tony Trabert, John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Björn Borg, and Jimmy Connors. He felt unable to rank Henri Cochet and René Lacoste accurately but felt they were among the very best.
  2. ^ The Game, My 40 Years in Tennis (1979), Jack Kramer with Frank Deford, page 21
  3. ^ The Game, My 40 Years in Tennis (1979), Jack Kramer with Frank Deford, page 31
  4. ^ Tennis Is My Racket, by Bobby Riggs, New York, 1949, page 16.
  5. ^ Tennis Is My Racket, by Bobby Riggs, New York, 1949, page 25.


  • Deford, Frank; Kramer, Jack (1979). The Game: My 40 Years in Tennis. New York: Putnam. ISBN 0-399-12336-9.  
  • Tennis Is My Racket, by Bobby Riggs, 1949, New York
  • McGann, George; Riggs, Bobby (1973). Court hustler. Philadelphia: Lippincott. ISBN 0-397-00893-7.  
  • Tom LeCompte, "The 18-Hole Hustle," American Heritage Magazine, August/September 2005 Volume 56, Issue 4.
  • Tom Lecompte (2003). The Last Sure Thing: The Life & Times of Bobby Riggs. Black Squirrel Publishing. ISBN 0-9721213-0-7.  
  • Selena Roberts (2005). A Necessary Spectacle : Billie Jean King, Bobby Riggs, and the Tennis Match That Leveled the Game. [New York]: Crown. ISBN 1-4000-5146-0.  

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