Doubts cast over Billie Jean’s win against Riggs

The greatest woman-beats-man match in tennis history could have been an elaborate mob fraud, according to a new report from ESPN.

Forty years ago, retired tennis champ Bobby Riggs lost to Billie Jean King in a remarkably hyped event that is still revered in the annals of the women’s liberation movement, the New York Post reported.

Artfully playing the brash male chauvinist pig, the 55-year-old Riggs lost in three straight sets to the world’s No 2 woman player of the time, King.

Four months earlier, Riggs had easily dispatched then-No 1 Margaret Court, making the King victory all the more stunning to 30,472 fans at the Houston Astrodome and millions more watching on TV on Sept 20, 1973.

However, a country club co-worker of Riggs believes the retired champ threw the match under mob pressure.

Hal Shaw, fixing golf clubs after midnight 40 years ago at the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club in Tampa, Florida, said Riggs was visited by an infamous group of organised crime figures.

Shaw insists he saw mob attorney Frank Ragano, Florida mob boss Santo Trafficante Jr, and New Orleans crime boss Carlos Marcello enter the club for a meeting with the former tennis pro, according to the report.

Ragano told the men that Riggs was going to “set up two matches... against the two best women players in the world,” Shaw told ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

“He mentioned Margaret Court — and it’s easy for me to remember that because one of my aunts’ names was Margaret so that, you know, wasn’t hard to remember — and the second lady was Billie Jean King,” 79-year-old Shaw told OTL.

“Mr Ragano was emphatic... Riggs had assured him that the fix would be in — he would beat Margaret Court and then he would go in the tank [play badly]”. However, Shaw said Riggs also pledged he’d “make it appear that it was on the up and up” against King.

Riggs’ friend, Gardnar Mulloy, a tennis star of the 1940s and 50s, said Riggs told him not to bet on him to beat King.

The son of 1930s tennis great Don Budge also claims his dad told him the King match was fixed.

However, both men said they do not believe Riggs threw the famous match because bookies would have noticed any huge money going on King.

Riggs was an overwhelming favourite in Las Vegas and bookies could barely entice any action on King, despite long odds.

“King money is scarce,” famed handicapper Jimmy the Greek said at the time. “King money is scarce. It’s hard to find a bet on the girl.”

Riggs was 77 when he died in 1995.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox