From New York Times sportswriter Roberts, an astute and energized profile of women’s tennis as it evolved during the reign of Billie Jean King, and of all the players—women and men, on court and off—who played a part.
The year 1973 was one of those junctures when one act in particular, Roberts writes, overturned widespread notions, in this case that women were mentally weak, physically frail and emotionally delicate when under pressure. Bobby Riggs had recently dispatched the formidable Margaret Court in a tennis match, and he set his eyes on King, who, with a voice that spoke to any issues of the day, was a mainstream face of feminism, a celebrity with credibility. She was a maverick of the most impressive sort: challenging the posturings of amateurism, working to form the first women’s professional tour and a union, caretaking and advocating the Women’s Sports Foundation (which as recently as George W. Bush was challenged, to his dismay). King accepted Riggs’s offer to a match, knowing she and women’s sports had everything to lose, if much to gain. Riggs, a publicity hound, had his own agenda: to achieve economic parity for the senior tour and to be important again. He was no ingénue, having won the men’s singles, the doubles and the mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 1939, something King repeated in 1967. Roberts composes a sharp reconstruction of the match—King foiling Riggs’s finesse game—and goes on to elucidate how it reverberated through the world of women’s sports. As carefully as King did, she explores King’s sexuality and the social costs it would entail: “Any hint of her sexual confusion would have belied her image and would have injured the tour and her pocketbook.” King would see her work bear copious fruit, as she addressed her sexuality and the tennis establishment with equal verve.
Expert portrayal of how women’s tennis played a socially progressive role in prodding a country to reconsider its sexism.