Billie Jean King knew how important the Battle of the Sexes match with Bobby Riggs was when she accepted the challenge.
Riggs already beat Margaret Court in straight sets and was ready to plow through the then 29 year-old American tennis star.
“I kept sweating over if I lost, imagine what the rest of my life would have been like?” King said yesterday when promoting the New York Empire in World Team Tennis. “I didn’t think I’d be able to help [promote] equality. It just would have changed the whole dynamic for me.”
Of course, she won in straight sets and now the match is a subject of the movie Battle of the Sexes, which is due out on Sep. 22.
King said she already saw the movie and forged a friendship with its star Emma Stone, who will be playing King opposite Steve Carell’s Bobby Riggs. The two are now texting buddies, who keep in contact, after Stone met King to study for the role.
“There’s one part that’s almost eerie, that’s just scary,” King said. “When we announced the match, Bobby and I, over at Town Tennis Club [in Manhattan], we’re sitting there and I’m to his right and he’s to my left and I heard her speak and it was so weird.
“It was almost like hearing myself. She nailed it, is what I’m saying. She got it right. She’s got the gift, and Steve Carell has got the gift. They’re all gifted actors . . . We had the cast party and I go, ‘None of you looks the same [as in the film].’ They did a great job. Everybody was so good-looking and handsome. I’m like, oh, my God, they all look so great.”
King had her agenda with the match, but so did Riggs, who was planning on another match after he defeated King.
“He told me, ‘When he beat you we were going to [play] Chris Evert for a million dollars, winner take all. I had all these endorsements and opportunities lined up for him. We had a whole game plan for Bobby. When you beat him that put the kibosh on everything. Everything stopped.’
“I didn’t know that,” King said. “I’m glad I didn’t know it, because he was one of my heroes. That’s why I beat him: Because I respected him.”
And now, the world will get to see the story on the big screen.