Apart from the lights and background, there is another little problem King has—rats. Her brother, Randy Moffitt, pitches for the San Francisco Giants, and she went to Candlestick Park recently to see him play. The Giants were all quite interested in the Riggs match and were quick to tell her about the Astrodome, one of their regular National League ports of call.
"The baseball players were teasing me," she said. "All of 'em said, 'Well, good luck, you and the rats.'
"I said, 'WHAT?'
"I've never been there. I don't have a clue, but Randy and the other guys said there's a lot of rats there. I don't think they were kidding. That's all I need, little rats running across the court."
She need not worry. The Astrodome was once infested and the Giants indeed once killed a rat in their dugout, but an exterminator was brought in and he chased the rodents out.
"We won't have rats running up her skirt," said a Dome spokesman.
So the male chauvinist pig across the net will be her only animal worry, but that should be more than enough to occupy her. The history of male-female matches indicates that she is in for a rough time. There have been other matches besides Riggs-Court. Jack Kramer was only 15 when he easily defeated Alice Marble. In the 1920s, when Helen Wills was queen of the courts, she played a practice match against a good male player, Fritz Mercur, on an outside court during the Nationals. She won, but Mercur handicapped himself by not coming to the net. They played a return match on center court one morning and that time Mercur won, but with difficulty.
More to the point, King herself has played men before. She practices fairly often with teaching pro Dennis Van der Meer, her partner in the lucrative TennisAmerica clinics and allied businesses. In practice sets she plays him "pretty even, but I don't usually beat him." Four or five years ago she played an exhibition set (with Ping-Pong scoring) against Gene Scott at C. W. Post College in New York, hastily arranged to fill a gap in a program. He spotted her 10 points and won anyway. ("He has that big hopping serve and got it way up above my shoulder, and I couldn't handle it at all," she said.)
King has even had experience playing men in
—indoors, as a matter of fact. In August of 1971, as part of a promotion for the Virginia Slims tour, an elimination tournament was held to determine an opponent for her. It was won by Jim Rombeau, former All-America tennis player at the University of Houston, who was 70 pounds heavier and far taller than King. Rombeau had not played competitively in three months and was not in the best of shape. They met in a one-set match at the university's Hofheinz Pavilion and Rombeau won 9-8 in a tie breaker in which King won only one point.
Of course, the issue is not whether a good young man player can beat the best young woman player. King and the other Women's Lobbers concede on that point, just as the women golf pros admit that the men even putt better than they do. The issue is whether a 55-year-old ex-champion male, who has "one foot in the grave" but does extraordinarily well with the other three limbs, and his mouth, can defeat Ms. King, who is 26 years younger and, if her injured right knee comes around as hoped, considerably quicker.