Tennis Prose



The Legend Of Bobby Riggs

Most tennis fans don’t know much about Bobby Riggs other than his famous Battle of the Sexes Match vs Billie Jean King. Todd Robinson’s did this capsule profile of Riggs for his Top 100 Players Of All Time email series.

  #20NAME:  Bobby RiggsDOB:  Feb 25, 1918 – Oct 25, 1995PLAYING ERA:  1936 – 51PLAYS:  RightyCOUNTRY:  USASLAMS/R-UPS:  3/2

KEY STATS/FACTS:  One of the more interesting characters in the history of the game….a local L.A. kid who grew up amid a series of fortuitous events that shaped his life as a hustler and tennis star……had 5 older brothers who all played sports, and early on Bobby showed a natural talent for athletic endeavors…started playing tennis at age 11, guided by his 17 yr old brother John, and was immediately spotted by a young female tennis player named Esther Bartosh, who was well known as a local tennis champion and started giving him lessons after that initial encounter…she guided him in his strokes and play, and also strategy, pointing out to him that most tennis points end in unforced errors (i.e., learn not to miss)…eventually Riggs made it to the Los Angeles Tennis Club (LATC), which was the mecca of the sport on the west coast…LATC attracted top players and top businessmen in the area, and gambling and card playing was a favorite pastime there…all these fortuitous circumstances – sports oriented older brothers, natural athletic ability, Bartosh seeing him play, and having the LATC nearby – nurtured a small (5’7″) but confident young boy into a future tennis star, gambler, and hustler……speed, stamina, and consistency (aka, counterpunching) were his trademarks as a young player…he once entered 3 tourneys simultaneously in L.A. in his teens, and made the finals in all of them, singles and dubs….he played all 6 finals on a Sunday, and won every match…would eventually develop an all-around game and be known for his exquisite drop shots and lobs…FH was always better than his BH, but he improved the BH…was a fluid, natural player who eventually mastered all aspects of the game…at 19 yrs old in 1937, made the semis of the US Championships, losing to #76 here, Gottfried von Cramm…2 years later, took the title there, shortly after playing Wimby for the one and only time and winning the singles, dubs, and mixed dubs titles in 1939…also played the French that year, as the #1 seed, but was upset in the finals by unseeded American Don McNeil…’39 French and Wimby were the only non-US slams he played…won one more US title in 1941, beating #94 here Frank Kovacs in the final…went pro in late in 1941 and made the US Pro final in ’42, losing badly to Budge, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2…shortly after served in the Navy for WW II, where he was eventually able to play and practice extensively, greatly improving his serve while pondering how to beat his top pro nemesis, Don Budge, whom he later played in exhibitions during the war as Budge was in the Army at the time…top brass set up matches between these two on a remote island in the Pacific…after the war, during which Budge had permanently injured his shoulder, Riggs toured against him and won 24 matches to 22, while also beating him 3 times in the US Pro slam final – 1946, ’47, & ’49…in ’47, he toured vs Kramer but lost badly, 69-20…in 1948, Riggs lost the US Pro slam final to Kramer…Riggs made one other pro slam final at Wembley in 1949, losing to Kramer again…Riggs was a hustler and gambler, and enjoyed playing handicapped matches with money on the line…as a teen, he travelled to the East Coast, hustling matches along the way….Riggs was known for having great accuracy and control over the ball, but for matches he hustled, he also controlled his nerves quite well, digging himself into deep deficits before then ‘turning it on’ and taking the match and his winnings…this proclivity for gamesmanship and showmanship led to his infamous “Battle of The Sexes” matches against Margaret Court (he won) and then Billie Jean King (lost), and unfortunately, many who’ve heard of him know only those stories and not how good of a player he was…in Kramer’s 1979 book, he put Riggs on par with Pancho Gonzalez as one the top 10 players since the 1920’s…from 1941 to 1949, Riggs was considered either the #1 (’41, ’45, ’46) or #2 player in the world, alongside Budge and Kramer…he was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1967.

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  • Scoop Malinowski · June 29, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    Six finals in one day. Wow. Could be some kind of a record. Borg Vilas played 19 practice sets in one day, his coach told me in Facing Guillermo Vilas book.

  • JohnnyTD · June 30, 2020 at 12:36 pm

    “Six finals in one day. Wow. Could be some kind of a record. Borg Vilas played 19 practice sets in one day, his coach told me in Facing Guillermo Vilas book.”

    I didn’t know he was such a good player.

    About the battle of the sexes match, watched related vids on youtube, Riggs’s son, pre-match interviews, fun event.

    They should do another Sampras-Agassi exho match, that was lots of fun with real tension, adding Rafa and Roger was a great idea, because ofc Andre wanted to show what a “real athlete” was like, also the trolling was epic during that match, the Sampras-Federer series was also great with real competition and tension.

    Those are the best exhos, the ones with real rivalry and tension.

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 30, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    I can assure you Pete Sampras will never step on a court with Andre Agassi ever again. Same with Steffi and Monica 🙂 Forget about it. Same with Margaret Court and BJK 🙂 Same with Connors and McEnroe 🙂 Serena vs Maria is over too 🙂

    McEnroe and Connors on the senior tour had tension and some lingering leftover grudge. Fed vs Rafa senior exos will probably be boring and too friendly like Fed vs Zverev last year. Nice to see Kyrgios is creating new grudge rivalries with Zverev and Djokovic. Need more of those.

    Riggs was one of the best. Jack Kramer salutes him highly in his book The Game. But all he’s remembered for is being BJK’s patsy in Houston, a sort of clown figure. It’s kind of like Michael Spinks in boxing, he won everything, Golden Gloves, Olympic gold medal in 1976, world titles at light heavweight and heavyweight, but all he is remembered for in boxing is losing to Mike Tyson in 90 seconds in the last fight of his career which was his ONLY pro loss.



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