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Tennis films ‘Battle Of The Sexes’, ‘Borg/McEnroe’ set to release in 2017

'Battle Of The Sexes' and 'Borg/McEnroe' are two very different tennis films about famous rivalries

Emma Stone and Steve Carell in ‘Battle Of The Sexes’.
Emma Stone and Steve Carell in ‘Battle Of The Sexes’.

On 20 September 1973, 55-year-old Bobby Riggs, a former world No.1, played one of the top-ranked women’s tennis players, 29-year-old Billie Jean King, in a match dubbed the “battle of the sexes". The prize money was a tempting $100,000, but there was a lot more at stake. Riggs had publicly boasted he could beat any of the top women players even at his advanced age, and had baited King in the run-up to the match.

This curious moment in tennis history is now a Hollywood movie. Battle Of The Sexes, with Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs, seems set to be the Hidden Figures of 2017: a rousing, liberal-minded period film that shines a light on a present-day inequality. The directors are Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who made Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and whose mix of whimsy and psychological drama should suit this material.

Shia LaBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason in ‘Borg/McEnroe’.

There’s another tennis film about famous opponents set to release this year. So far there’s only been a teaser released for Janus Metz Pedersen’s Borg/McEnroe (also titled Borg), but it looks fascinating. Sverrir Gudnason plays Björn Borg, the Swede with nerves of steel, while the mercurial American John McEnroe is played by Shia LaBeouf. The difference between the two films couldn’t be more stark. Battle Of The Sexes is glib, inviting and Hollywood; Borg/McEnroe, fractured, forbidding and arty.

As McEnroe’s recent sexist remarks about Serena Williams show, the issue of equality in tennis is far from resolved. This is why films such as these two are welcome: to show us that we haven’t progressed as much as we might think, and to remind us that the game’s biggest rabble-rouser has always been this way

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