Bobby Riggs vs. Billy Jean King -- a second time?
Now that Billie Jean King is in the spotlight again after reachi g the semifinals in that gallant comeback try at Wimbledon, she has another challenge to consider: Bobby Riggs wants a rematch!
''Next year it will have been 10 years,'' he says of their famous duel. 'I'd like another shootout with Billie Jean.''
At the moment, though, the sports world's foremost male chauvinist has more immediate plans - and his eyes light up just talking about them.
''Pancho Segura and I are going to challenge the women's doubles champions of the US Open in September,'' he says. ''We want to play them as soon after the Open as possible. Whenever they are free, we'll be ready. We've already had three doubles matches with women and won them all.''
Riggs feels his latest plan will appeal to the public and to the women pros, too. ''No one can turn down a chance at $100,000,'' he concludes. ''Plus, if they don't play us, they'd look like they're afraid.''
Bobby has lined up sponsors, but won't name them yet. The winning team will split $100,000, the losers $25,000. He hopes to play the nationally televised match in the Astrodome or at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Riggs thinks Wimbledon doubles champions Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver may well provide the opposition. ''Can you imagine what could happen to two old guys who have to play those powerful women?'' he asks. ''I'll admit they have to be favored. They will probably win, because our combined age is 125 (Bobby is 64 , Pancho 61). But all I want is a little fun and excitement.''
Indeed, everywhere Riggs goes he still talks a mile a minute, thrives on being the center of attention, and insists he hasn't lost any of his old chauvinistic tendencies (''Does a leopard change his spots?''). But then, why should he? Though a top player in his own day, winning Wimbledon in 1939 and the US championship in both 1939 and 1941, he achieved his greatest fame by far when he challenged the game's top two women players in 1973.
On Mother's Day of that year he easily defeated Australia's Margaret Court 6- 1, 6-2. The event lasted only 45 minutes and Riggs took home $10,000 for his victory.
That set the stage for the famed ''Battle of the Sexes'' in Houston that September.
''The Mother's Day Massacre was great,'' says Riggs. ''But then came the catastrophe in the Astrodome, when Billie Jean beat me (6-4, 6-3, 6-3). That was the biggest spectacle tennis ever had. The whole world was tuned in on TV. There had never been anything like it before, and there probably won't be anything like it again.''
The much-ballyhooed duel drew a live crowd of 30,472 - biggest ever for a tennis match - in addition to the huge television audience. And whatever disappointment Riggs may have felt at losing was tempered by the financial rewards, since each player came out with well over $100,000 counting prize money and ancillary rights.
Despite his showmanship and chauvinistic talk, the Bobby Riggs who emerges when you're with him for a while is a man full of enthusiasm for life and love of people.
That's not to say, though, that Bobby has ever been anything less than an all-out competitor. In addition to his triumphs at Wimbledon and Forest Hills he won the 1935 US Junior championship, the 1940 US Indoor title, and three US pro crowns. And since 1968, when he won the US 45-and-over senior grass court championship, he has held most age-group titles in his division.
Over the weekend of July 10, Riggs will participate in an eight-man Masters tournament at the Longwood Cricket Club just outside Boston in conjunction with this year's US Pro Championships. All participants must be at least 45 and hold one major title.
''Next year, I'll move into the 65-year-old division, which will be terrific, '' says Bobby. ''I'll be a rookie again, the youngest and freshest guy in the group.''
Riggs, who retains a boyishness, stays active in tennis and golf. He keeps up a busy schedule that includes promotional appearances, playing engagements, and of course those ''chauvinistic'' challenge matches. More than anything, though, Bobby serves as one of his game's top promoters because of his great enthusiasm for tennis.
''When I don't enjoy it anymore, I'll stop,'' he says. ''But I think as long as people want me to be where the action is, I'll be there. I just love to play tennis.''