Larry was in Decatur on Thursday — the first time since he played in a tournament at Fairview Park 45 years ago — to help his son, Danny, get ready for the start of the singles qualifying for the 15th Ursula Beck Pro Tennis Classic.
Thinking of what would be the modern equivalent of his dad’s match against King, Larry settled on a John McEnroe vs. Serena Williams showdown and asked several of the players at the courts at Fairview Park who they thought would win in that possible match.
The answers delivered resounding support for McEnroe.
“These are the young pros, so they don’t have a lot of respect for women pros,” Larry said. “As my dad didn’t.”
Bobby Riggs played his first match against a women’s player in May 1973 against No. 1-ranked Margaret Court and beat her 6-2, 6-1. His match against King came four months later.
“He trained and was in really great shape and played (Court) in May and beat her easy,” Larry said. “Then he played Billie Jean King and wasn’t in the greatest of shape at all — and I’m being kind — and he got totally killed. I kept on saying to him, ‘What are you doing? Why aren’t you training? Why aren’t you getting ready?’
“He said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a rematch clause in there. It doesn’t matter. I’m doing the promoting. I’m doing this TV thing, and that’s more important. I can always play her again. I said, ‘OK, I wouldn’t want to lose to her.’ He said don’t worry about it.
“The rest is history. She said she would give him the rematch for sure, but he had to wait 10 or 20 or 30 more years.”
King beat Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. She shifted from her naturally aggressive game to a baseline game and made the 55-year-old Riggs — 26 years her senior — run.
Decatur native Lornie Kuhle, who met Larry when he played in Decatur, was Bobby’s coach for the match against King.
“It was the biggest sporting event I’ve ever seen — nothing like it before or since,” said Kuhle, who now runs the Bobby Riggs Tennis Club in San Diego. “It was the cover of Time magazine, the cover of Sports Illustrated, Newsweek magazine.
“Because of the match, it became a milestone for women’s rights and Title IX. There was social change because of the match and Billie Jean King.”
Kuhle has been friends with the Riggs family since meeting Larry 45 years ago at Fairview Park. With Danny playing the USTA Futures Tour this summer, they decided to reunite at the Beck.
Danny’s had a tennis racket in his hands since the age of 2. He started out hitting balloons his dad lobbed to him with his racket.
“Gradually he was feeding me tennis balls, and after a few broken lamps and vases my mom kicked me out of the house and we had to move to tennis courts,” Danny said.
Danny was the No. 1-ranked player in Florida for 10-and-under and has moved through the ranks to his current spot as the No. 1 men’s player in Florida. He went to Pompano Beach High School, where he was part of the Florida state doubles championship team in 2009 and 2010.
Danny spent his freshman year at Cornell before sitting out the past year with the intent to transfer. He made it to the finals of the USTA National Open Clay Court Championships in May, spent a month in Thailand playing in tournaments and just recently returned to the U.S. to get back to the Futures.
Along the way, he’s heard plenty of stories about his grandfather.
“It’s usually random people at tennis tournaments,” Danny said. “They’ll come up to me like, ‘Are you Bobby Riggs’ son or grandson?’ ”
And when he says yes, he said the response is, “Oh, let me tell you about this match.”
“They’ll go on and on with details of this crazy match how there’s no way he can win and he just somehow pulls through,” Danny added. “I’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of these stories. Anyone that’s played tennis, they seem to have a Bobby Riggs story.”
Danny is in the doubles main draw for the Beck, but will open play in the second round of singles qualifying at approximately 1:30 p.m. against incoming Ohio State redshirt junior Kevin Metka after drawing a first-round bye.
“(Danny) needs to get a decent draw and two or three matches under his belt, and he’ll be good to go,” Larry said. “The guys at this level are all about the same. (2012 Beck champion) Ryan Rowe, he practices with us in Florida, and they can hold his own against him. Who’s playing really good today or tomorrow or next week, who’s playing better … that’s who wins it.”