The Battle of the Sexes Is Back: Serena Vs. the Men

“If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes,” Serena Williams told David Letterman on the Late Show last week. “I wouldn’t do Billie Jean any justice, so Andy, stop it. I’m not gonna let you kill me.”

The No. 1-ranked women’s tennis player was responding to a challenge that Wimbledon champion Murray issued in June. Williams indicated the debate over arguably the greatest female player of all time versus the men should remain exactly that—a debate. “Yeah, maybe we can have a little bit of a showdown,” Williams joked at Wimbledon. “I get alleys. He gets no serves. I get alleys on my serves, too. He gets no legs, yeah.”

It’s natural to wonder how Williams—nearly 32 and seemingly only getting better with age—would stack up against the men. She’s the top seed as she heads into the second round of play at the last grand slam of the year, the U.S. Open, with a 61-4 season record, is the winner of eight titles including this year’s French Open, and not far removed from the longest winning streak—34 matches—of her 18-year professional career. She is the active leader in career titles with 54 (10 more than sister Venus in second) and sixth on the all-time majors list with 16.
With September marking the 40th anniversary of the landmark “The Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs—and a newOutside the Lines report that Riggs, a known gambler and hustler, may have thrown the match for the mafia—an exhibition of the sort might seem fitting.
‘Serena against Andy Murray would not work. He would win. And he knows it. She knows it.’
“It wouldn’t be the same,” King tells The Daily Beast. “I mean, Bobby was a lot older than I was. The women have never said we’re better than the men, and yet, the men always come back to us, ‘Oh, you think you’re as good or better.’ No, not at all.”
King says that some have been trying to get Williams and American legend John McEnroe to play for the last decade. McEnroe’s been eager to play. “Men have androgens that we don’t have,” she says. “You’re stronger, you’re faster—we don’t argue that at all. So to be honest, Serena against Andy Murray would not work. He would win. And he knows it. She knows it.”
King, a nine-time grand slam champ on her way to 12 in her career, initially declined Riggs’s challenge. The late former men’s world No. 1 had comfortably overpowered top female Margaret Court in another match—on Mother’s Day of all occasions. The world No. 2 then changed her mind.
“As time went on, I started to think I had to play Bobby,” she says in an interview in a forthcoming PBS “American Masters” series film, making King the first athlete ever profiled on the program. “I didn’t have a choice. If I can win, then I can help move things forward. I could help not only the tour, but I could help social issues move forward.” King founded the WTA, which also turned 40, in June.
“I like the idea that I’m playing for someone else besides myself,” King said at the time in another clip from the documentary.
Held at Houston’s Astrodome in 1973 and watched by an estimated 50 million primetime American TV viewers, “The Battle of the Sexes” remains the largest live audience (30,472) in the United States to see a match. A 2010 exhibition in Brussels, headlined by Williams, has since topped it, with 35,681 in attendance.
Among plenty of pre-match hype and hoopla, King, of course, went on to defeat Riggs three sets to none in a best-of-five format, securing a $100,000 prize. The match also captured the intrigue of the entire nation, and helped blaze a trail for the women’s rights movement, on and off the tennis court. For her role in progressing the cause for which she fought, King was named to Lifemagazine’s 1990 list of “100 Most Important Americans”—not athletes, people—“of the 20th Century.” She was just one of four athletes included and the only female.
Were Williams to accept a match, be it against Murray, or even McEnroe, it wouldn’t be the first time she has tried her hand against the boys. Her longtime hitting partner briefly competed on the men’s professional tour and was at one point No. 35 in the under-16 European rankings.

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