Billie Jean King film replays tennis battle for women's equality

Mon Jun 24, 2013 5:50pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Ian MacKenzie

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - As Wimbledon gets under way, former U.S. tennis champion Billie Jean King is telling the tale of how she struck one of the most famous blows for female equality in a new documentary film.

"The Battle of the Sexes" recounts King's journey from an amateur player to a feminist sports idol whose 1973 defeat of self-confessed "chauvinist pig" Bobby Riggs set women's rights and tennis on the road to a modern game where Serena Williams can enjoy equal status and prize money with Novak Djokovic.

At the film's premiere in the Scottish capital this weekend, the 69-year old six time Wimbledon champion told Reuters that these days, top players like Williams have come a long way from 1970s, when the documentary says women needed approval from their husbands to arrange their own finances.

"Well, I would say for the most part the players today are living our dream," said King, who narrates and is executive producer of the film directed by James Erskine and Zara Hayes.

The year she beat Riggs, King also won Wimbledon to earn 3,000 pounds. The 1973 men's champion, Jan Kodes, earned 5,000 pounds. This year the men's and ladies' singles champions will each take home 1.6 million pounds ($2.46 million).

The film's historical footage follows King's rise as a young tennis prodigy alongside the bra-burning demonstrations of the U.S. women's movement cut with contemporary TV commercials in which men order their wives to iron their shirts and rail against the stroppy proponents of feminism.

As King matures, joins the breakaway pioneers of a professional women's tennis circuit and then founds the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) to fight for better recognition, along comes the ageing, fast-talking, hustler and retired Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs with a challenge.

HUSTLERS   Continued...

Billie Jean King, co-founder of World Team Tennis and president of Billie Jean King Enterprises, Inc. gives the introduction on sports and leadership, forty years after Title IX to Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, California October 2, 2012. REUTERS/Alex Gallardo