Pay-per-view: the battle of the sexes

September 20, 1992|By Steven Herbert | Steven Herbert,Los Angeles Times

In tennis, a sport where love gets you nothing, $24.95 gets you a peek at a battle of the sexes.

Martina Navratilova will try to increase women's advantage over men when she takes on Jimmy Connors Friday in a best-of-three sets match at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev.

Barry Tomkins, Vitas Gerulaitis, Betsy Nagelsen and Jim Hill will report on this pay-per-view telecast. There will also be a celebrity one-set doubles match.

This is the sixth formal man-vs.-woman match. On Mother's Day, 1973, Bobby Riggs defeated Margaret Court, 6-2, 6-1. Sports Illustrated put Mr. Riggs on its cover that week, with the warning, "Never bet against this man."

But Billie Jean King proved the magazine wrong when she defeated the 55-year-old Riggs, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, four months later. The match drew a television rating of 28.1 and record-high audiences of 50 million viewers and 30,472 at the Astrodome in Houston.

But Mr. Riggs, a fast talker who readily used male chauvinism to hype his matches, wasn't done yet. He took on a then-13-year-old Tracy Austin in 1976, and lost, 6-2.

In 1981, Mr. Riggs paired with Pancho Segura for a pair of doubles wins over little-known women professionals. At age 67 in 1985, he teamed with Vitas Gerulaitis in a 2-6, 3-6, 4-6 loss to Ms. Navratilova and Pam Shriver in a pay-per-view match.

"Bobby was too old and Vitas was not that much of a doubles playeranyway," Ms. Navratilova recalls. "It didn't matter who Bobby would have played with. We would have won. Bobby was too much of a handicap."

While Mr. Riggs' handicap was age, Ilie Nastase was limited to one serve instead of two and had to defend the doubles alleys in a 1975 loss to Evonne Goolagong.

Mr. Connors will be under similar limitations Friday, although Ms. Navratilova has only been given half of the 4 1/2 -foot doubles alley.

Ms. Navratilova, 35, admits she does need a bit of rules edge to be competitive against Mr. Connors.

"I can't run as fast, jump as far, I'm not as strong as Jimmy is and haven't played against men," Ms. Navratilova says. "When I practice against the guys at first, I don't do so well, but the more I play against those balls, the better I get. I haven't seen that kind of ball all that much, so that's another handicap."

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