Today, watching elite female athletes such as Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova competing before packed crowds on the grand stage of Rod Laver Arena and playing for millions of dollars in prize money is a given.
Forty years ago, such a scenario was unfathomable.
That was until Billie Jean King beat self-proclaimed male chauvinist and former tennis great Bobby Riggs in a momentous match before 30,000 fans – and a TV audience of 100 million worldwide – in 1973 at the Houston Astrodome.
The match is now the subject of the acclaimed documentary Battle of the Sexes, being exclusively screened tonight at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne.
The Friday 17 January screening will be followed by a panel discussion of the match featuring Australian Tennis Hall of Famer Judy Dalton, one of the “Original 9” players who broke away from the establishment to form the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and the tour that the women’s tennis stars of today compete on.
“I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match,” King recalled.
“It would ruin the women’s tour and affect the self-esteem of all women.”
Opined an editorial in the New York Times: “In a single tennis match, Billie Jean King was able to do more for the cause of women than most feminists can achieve in a lifetime.”
Battle of the Sexes features interviews with past women’s tennis legends Margaret Court, Chris Evert and Virginia Wade, other members of the Original 9, and current stars Williams, Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki.
Friday’s panel discussion will follow the 7.30pm screening of the documentary. For tickets and more information, visit acmi.net.au/battlesexes, and follow the conversation via #BattleoftheSexes.
Battle of the Sexes will screen at ACMI until 13 February 2014.