It was 35 years ago Saturday that perhaps the most famous single tennis match in the history of the sport was held in Houston, Texas when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the famed “Battle of the Sexes.” The following are events that happened this week in tennis history as documented in my soon-to-be-released book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennistomes.com).
1973 – In perhaps the most socially significant event in the history of tennis and sports history, 29-year-old Billie Jean King defeats 55-year-old Bobby Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in 2 hours, 4minutes to win the “Battle of the Sexes” played at the Houston Astrodome in Houston, Texas. The match is played in a circus-like atmosphere in front of a world record crowd of 30,492 fans and millions in front of televisions around the world. “She was too good,” says Riggs, the 1939 Wimbledon champion, following the match. “She played too well. She was playing well within herself and I couldn’t get the most out of my game. It was over too quickly.” Writes Neil Amdur of the New York Times, “King struck a proud blow for herself and women around the world.”
1988 – The sport of tennis returns to official status as an Olympic sport for the first time since 1924 as the tennis competition opens at the Seoul Games. Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg, the winner of the gold medal in men’s singles at the 1984 demonstration in Los Angeles, plays the first match on stadium court, defeating Austria’s Horst Skoff 7-6, 6-2, 6-3. Says Edberg of tennis being part of the Olympics, “I don’t really know whether we should be here in tennis, but it is worth giving it a chance. It needs some time. In the 1920s, there weren’t that many countries competing in the Olympics. Now, here, all the top players aren’t competing so that hurts it a little bit. Plus, we have all the Grand Slam events we play in, and those are the most important right now to us. But this is only played every four years, so there’s nothing wrong with trying it.”
1977 – Ilie Nastase is upset in the round of the Grand Prix tournament in Paris by Frenchman Georges Goven, who uses a double-strung “spaghetti” racquet to post the 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory. The spaghetti-strung racquet provides added speed and lift to shots. “That’s the first time I’ve played against someone using one of those things,” says Nastase of the spaghetti-strung racquet.
2000 – Just one week after being crowned U.S. Open champion, No. 1 seeded Marat Safin of Russia, bows out in the first round of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, losing to Fabrice Santoro of France 1-6, 6-1, 6-4. Safin takes the court barely 24 hours after arriving in Sydney from Uzbekistan, where Safin won the President’s Cup in Tashkent.
1969 – Stan Smith and Bob Lutz give the United States an insurmountable 3-0 lead over Romania, clinching the Davis Cup title, defeating Ilie Nastase and Ion Tiriac 8-6, 6-1, 11-9 in Cleveland, Ohio.
1997 – Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge defeat Pete Sampras and Todd Martin 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-4 to cut the U.S. lead over Australia to 2-1 in the Davis Cup semifinals in Washington, D.C. Sampras is so angry at the loss that he refuses to attend the post-match press conference, causing the International Tennis Federation to fine the U.S. team $1,000. “I really didn’t have anything to say. I really didn’t,” Sampras says the next day. “I was getting a rubdown, and the key thing was to recover, because I played back-to-back matches. It was more important to get ready for an early match, an 11 o’clock match. It is early for me.”
1997 – World No. 1 Pete Sampras defeats reigning U.S. Open champion and No. 3-ranked Patrick Rafter 6-7 (8), 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 to clinch the 4-1 victory for the United States over Australia in the Davis Cup semifinal in Washington, D.C. Says Sampras of the satisfying win over the man who took the U.S. Open title he held since 1995, “I couldn’t play any better. I did everything that I could do very well. I served and returned well. If I can play at that level and that intensity, I feel like I am going to be pretty tough to beat.” Sampras never faces a break point on the afternoon and gives up only 18 points on his serve over four sets. Says Rafter, “Pete served too well today. I played Pete a lot of times before and I’ve always had at least one chance to break him. But today I couldn’t read his serve and just didn’t pick the ball up. He was too good for me on the day.” After Sampras and Michael Chang win opening day singles matches over Mark Philippoussis and Rafter, respectively, Australia cuts the U.S. lead to 2-1 in the doubles contest, defeating Sampras and Todd Martin 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-4. Sampras is so angry at the doubles loss that he refuses to attend the post-match press conference, causing the International Tennis Federation to fine the U.S. team $1,000. “I really didn’t have anything to say. I really didn’t,” Sampras says after his win over Rafter of skipping his media session after the doubles loss the previous day. “I was getting a rubdown, and the key thing was to recover, because I played back-to-back matches. It was more important to get ready for an early match, an 11 o’clock match. It is early for me.”
2000 – Venus Williams defeats Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand 6-2, 6-3 in the second round of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and then pairs with younger sister Serena in the pair’s Olympic doubles debut, defeating Canada’s Vanessa Webb and Sonya Jeyaseelan 6-3, 6-1 in the first round. In between matches, Venus meets with Janette Howard, the wife of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and trades pins with The Right Honorable Hage Geingob, the Prime Minister of the African nation of Namibia.
2003 – Agustin Calleri of Argentina, substituting for teammate Mariano Zabaleta, connects on an incredible 109 winners in just three sets in beating reigning French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-4, 7-5, 6-1 to level Argentina even with Spain in the Davis Cup semifinal in Malaga, Spain. Carlos Moya beats Gaston Gaudio in the fifth and decisive rubber of the tie 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 to elevate Spain to the final.
1988 – Called a “David-and-Goliath tennis match” by Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times, 19-year-old Clement N’Goran of the Ivory Coast, ranked No. 827 in the world, falls to Britain’s Andrew Castle, ranked No. 142, 6-7, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6, 7-5 in the first round of the Olympic tennis competition.