Battle of the Sexes, a Fox Searchlight Pictures film directed by the husband and wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, is coming to theaters in 2017. The film is based on the infamous 1973 tennis match of the same name. That match pitted top female player Billie Jean King, played by Stone, against 55-year-old retired Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs, played by Carell.
The Battle of the Sexes tennis match was played before a sold-out crowd in the Houston Astrodome and seen by an estimated 90 million viewers worldwide. The buildup to the match made it a cultural spectacle that captivated millions in the midst of the second wave of feminism. In what was seen as a major upset, King defeated Riggs in straight sets. While the movie centers around the match, it also details the struggles faced by both players off the court.
Doug Dean, the seasoned tennis pro at The Ocean Resort at Bath and Tennis in Westhampton Beach, was brought in by Lornie Kuhle, who was on the bench supporting Riggs’ during the Battle of the Sexes, to help train Carell for the part.
Dean says he and Kuhle “went to Steve Carell’s house every day for about five weeks or so” to get him ready to portray Riggs. Tasks included acquainting Carell with an antiquated wooden racket and getting him to play like Riggs out on the court. “Steve never really played tennis, but he’s a good athlete,” Dean says, “we got him hitting the ball just like Bobby.”
Dean began his teaching career as an assistant tennis pro at MGM Grand Las Vegas before being recruited to be the head tennis pro at Dunes Hotel, where the Bellagio is today, by Bobby Riggs, who was the Director of Tennis at the Dunes. Dean even shared an apartment with Riggs at times.
Riggs was a master promoter, and Dean says that it may have done him in when it came time for him to play King.
“He spent the weeks leading up to the match doing endless interviews and promoting the match,” Dean says. “The one thing he didn’t do was practice! For the biggest match of his life, he was unprepared. And that was uncharacteristic of him. He had played Margaret Court, No. 1 ranked woman in the world on national television and he beat her 6-2, 6-1. He won that match so easily that I think he felt he couldn’t lose to Billie Jean King. He underestimated her. I don’t think he intended not to practice, I just think he was having too much fun flying all over the map promoting the match.”
After 20 years at Bath and Tennis, Dean is still an active teacher. At 67 he says Bath and Tennis’s clay courts on the ocean are what enables him to continue teaching.
“The clay is what allows me to work, I love the surface,” he says. “There’s seven or eight times less pressure on your joints than cement. Tennis is the only sport where you play on a highway, it’s ridiculous. If you’re over 45 years old, clay is where it’s at.”
Dean’s lessons are aimed at helping the club player. “Hardly a lesson goes by where I don’t teach something that I learned from Bobby Riggs,” he says. “He was my mentor, and in my opinion, he’s one of the most underrated players of all time.”
When asked to impart his finest tennis wisdom, Dean kept it simple: “Keep the ball in play.”
This takes after Bobby Riggs’ defensive style, which Dean says is the ideal mentality for club tennis players.
“Don’t try to do too much,” Dean says. “It’s fun to hit it hard, but it’s more fun to win the match. Make your opponent beat you, don’t beat yourself. You will always score more points on your opponent’s mistakes than your own great shots.”
If you want more tennis tips or to learn more about Dean, check out his book Tennis Tips and Tall Tales.