05 Nov 2017

Braasch reflects on his own 'battle of the sexes'

News Article

By Harvey Fialkov

Seniors World Championships - Karsten Braasch (GER)

More than 44 years after the iconic 'Battle of the Sexes' match between tennis legend Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs helped create gender equality in professional sports, the historic event is back in the headlines again with the recent release of the movie of the same name. 

By now everyone knows that King, who was coming off her 10th of 12 Grand Slam singles titles two months earlier at Wimbledon, thrashed 55-year-old self-proclaimed male chauvanist Riggs – a gambler who won a fortune betting on himself to win Wimbledon in 1939 – in three straight sets to put women’s tennis on the map.

However, not everyone may know that 25 years after the 1973 $100,000 winner-take-all match played in the Houston Astrodome in front of more than 30,000 fans and an estimated 90 million worldwide television viewers, a less ballyhooed 'Battle of the Sexes’ match took place on Court 12 at the 1998 Australian Open.

This time it was between a 203rd ranked, bespectacled German named Karsten Braasch and both Serena and Venus Williams, two athletic teenage prodigies just scratching the surface of their celestial careers.

Braasch, a lean 50, is still brash and still sporting a scratchy, albeit gray-speckled beard. He’s also still brandishing a funky, exaggerated southpaw service windup.

After his German team was ousted in the semifinals at the ITF Seniors World Team Championships at Flamingo Park on Thursday, before going on to win the bronze medal in the third place play-off, Braasch was asked to talk about the day he pulled off the rare double and defeated the Williams’ sisters back to back.

"I was sitting there [in the tournament office] when the girls were saying they could beat any man ranked outside 200," said Braasch, who’s 34-3 this year and seeded second in the Seniors World Individual 50s draw which began Saturday at Flamingo Park.

"I said ‘I’m 203 in the world and we can do it if you want to'. I [lost in the first round of singles and doubles] so I had another five days in Australia and had nothing to do."

Venus, 17 at the time and already ranked 5th, had reached her first Grand Slam final at the US Open four months prior. She was still alive in the draw, so Serena, 16, who had lost in the third round of just her second career major draw, quickly agreed to play Braasch. He had been ranked a high of 38 in 1994, but was now on the backside of his career.

So a few days later in front of several hundred fans, with no umpires, no ball boys, no TV cameras and no money on the line, just pride, Braasch defeated Serena in a 61 set.

Venus, who had just lost in the quarterfinals, came to support her younger sister. Not liking the result, she quickly changed to uphold the family honor.

Instead she too went down 62 as Braasch’s quirky spins and court coverage was too much for the still developing superstars, who would go on to win a combined 30 Grand Slams singles titles and are still going strong.

"I hit shots that would have been winners on the women's Tour and he got to them easily," Serena said at the time. "This time next year I'll beat him. I have to pump some weight."

Venus remained undaunted and said she could still "beat men in the 300s and up".

Braasch, who had won six doubles titles and posted wins over Ivan Lendl in the 1994 Hamburg Masters and Stefan Edberg in the 1995 Miami Open Masters, smiled at their bravado.

"Against anyone in the top 500, no chance, because I was playing like 600 today," he cracked then.

Today, Braasch, who teaches tennis at home in Ratingen, isn’t about to disparage the Williams’ sisters or the WTA.

Braasch, six years old at the time of the King-Riggs match, doesn’t remember the circus-like event, but does admit he wasn’t playing too hard that day in Melbourne.

"I didn’t hit a first serve because there’s no reason," Braasch said. "Back then I was serving so well I would get 30 aces against the guys, so it didn’t make sense."

Braasch, who came along the same time as German greats Boris Becker and Micheal Stich, both 49, said their success helped bring him notoriety. He also said there are still personalities in the sport, but players today have to be more careful because of social media.

"There are more rules and press conferences you have to do for 20 minutes, so players can’t do crazy stuff because somebody will take a picture and put it on Facebook or Instagram," he said.

Braasch has never stopped playing and enjoys the Seniors circuit, especially when playing for his country as he did during his two Davis Cup doubles stints.

"I love competing; I love challenging myself; it’s just great, especially here in Miami," he said.

When asked how he would do against Serena in a rematch, Braasch bit his tongue and plead the fifth.