Saturday 26 September 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 19 - A Battle

LAST TIME : 55) Paul Etheredge directed the first gay slasher film “Hellbent”, a title reminiscent of the gory “Hellraiser” films of splatterpunk writer 56) Clive Barker (b.1952). The slasher/splatter genre is an easy target for parody, which was the intention behind “The Slumber Party Massacre”, written by 57) Rita Mae Brown (b.1944) the year after she split up from 58) Martina Navratilova (b.1956).
58) Martina Navratilova was the biggest female tennis player of the 1980s and 90s. Czech by birth Martina defected to the USA in 1975 and gained American citizenship in 1981. Shortly afterwards she gave an interview with the New York Daily News in which she admitted to having had a relationship with 57) Rita Mae Brown (b.1944). By this time Martina was the number 1 ranked female singles player in world tennis. She was also rising in the ranks of doubles tennis. In 1984 she won the grand slam of titles with her doubles partner Pam Shriver. Consequently they were invited to take part in a Battle of the Sexes doubles match against Vitas Gerulaitis and Bobby Riggs.

The match took place on 23rd August 1985. Martina and Pam were a well-established doubles team and Giggs and Gerulaitis had never played doubles together before and they were very different players. Martina and Pam won easily, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Added to the fact that Bobby Riggs was 67 years old and well past his prime the result was no great surprise.

Martina was to play another Battle of the Sexes match, referred to as the Battle of the Champions, in a singles match against Jimmy Connor in 1992. Martina was no longer ranked number 1 (by then it was Monica Seles). The match took place in Caesar’s Palace, Nevada, and was a win for Connor, 7-6, 6-2.

The Battle of the Sexes tennis match “officially” refers to three specific singles matches, the third of which was the Navratilova/Connors match. The previous two featured Bobby Riggs, the doubles player who lost to Martina and Pam Shriver in 1985.

Bobby Riggs was a number 1 ranked tennis player of the 1940s. A very self-opinionated man and never one to shy away from self-publicity Riggs declared that male tennis players would always be superior players to female players. At the age of 55 he said he could beat any top ranked female player.

The first Battle of the Sexes match took place in 1972 between Riggs and number 1 ranked Margaret Court who, with 58) Martina Navratilova, is one of only three women to win a career grand slams in singles and doubles titles. Riggs won this first Battle 6-2, 6-1. But it is the second Battle of the Sexes match which has become the most famous.

The second Battle was held just four months after the first. Riggs’ opponent this time was the player who turned him down for the first match, 59) Billie Jean King (b.1943). The publicity for the match turned the event into something of a circus with Riggs playing on his opinions and courting controversy. Even their entry onto the court at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, was very theatrical, with both players entering being carried in Roman Imperial style. Riggs made sure that the match was broadcast live nationally, with a prize of $100,000 for the winner.

Billie Jean King won the Battle 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. Riggs was reportedly devastated, but it didn’t stop him from mounting further Battle of the Sexes matches (a very lucrative venture as it turned out), including the 1985 doubles match.

Billie Jean King’s first singles win at Wimbledon was in 1966. At the time she had successfully coached a teenager to the US Junior Women’s Championship title. The girl was called 60) Tam O’Shaughnessy (b.1952).

Tam O’Shaughnessy was born into a tennis-loving family. Her mother ran a tennis tournament in Fullerton, California, in the 1960s. Billie Jean was a famous player who hadn’t yet won Wimbledon and was keen to encourage young players. So, when Tam’s mother invited Billie Jean to play in her tournament she jumped at the chance. A feature of the tournament was doubles matches with teams of different generations – parents and children competing against other parents and children. Billie Jean King agreed to partner the 13-year-old Tam in the doubles tournament. They won. Billie Jean then offered to coach Tam, and within a couple of years Tam was the national under-18 champion. Her highest world ranking was number 52, though she was number 3 in the US doubles rankings.

Tam O’Shaughnessy retired from tennis in the 1970s and turned to science. Her later career in science education was shared with someone she had known since her teenage tennis years, someone who became her life partner, and someone who would very literally reach higher than any American woman had done before. Tam’s partner was 61) Sally Ride (1951-2012), the first American woman in space.

Next time we see how going into space leads us under a volcano.

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