When women compete with men in sport. McEnroe v Williams.

When women compete with and equal men in sport

When women compete with men in sport

Our sports writers have come up with a number of instances when women compete with men in sport, following the ongoing debate between American tennis greats John McEnroe and Serena Williams.

The former men’s seven-time singles Grand Slam champion has never been one to hold back his opinions, and recently suggested that men and women should go head-to-head on court to settle the battle of sexes debate.

He even suggested that Williams, second in the women’s all-time Grand Slam singles titles list with 23, would “be like 700 in the world” on the ATP Tour.

The currently pregnant Serena fired back, saying: “Keep me out of your statements that are not factually based”.

But what has happened when both sexes have battled each other before in tennis and other disciplines?

Read on as we go through when women compete with men in sport…


We start off with the sport in question, tennis, and a battle of sexes has actually happened a few times in the past.

The first known match was way back in 1888 between British Wimbledon champions Ernest Renshaw and Lottie Dod, with the former winning 2-6 7-5 7-5 despite a 30-0 disadvantage every game.

Another notable occasion was when former men’s world number 1 Bobby Riggs (then aged 55) took on women’s record Grand Slam singles winner Margaret Court.

Riggs won 6-2 6-1, despite being 25 years older, but he didn’t have much luck later that year against another female great Billie Jean King.

This time Riggs lost in straight sets 6-4 6-3 6-3.

Serena and her sister Venus Williams have also been involved in a battle of sexes earlier in their careers, back during the 1998 Australian Open, when they claimed they could beat any male top 200 ranked player.

Then-world number 203 Karsten Braasch stood up, albeit apparently after after a round of golf and two beers, and defeated them 6-1 and 6-2 respectively.

Other instances include when Chinese women’s star Li Na beat Novak Djokovic 3-2 in an exhibition.

Tennis is also one of the very few mainstream sports that regularly feature men and women at the same time, with its mixed doubles event that is particularly popular at Grand Slams.

Motor racing

A number of female racers across motor sports have and still do compete regularly against men, including Ana Carrasco, Maria Herrera, Jenny Tinmouth and Michelle Duff.

But to more mainstream UK motor racing fans, it might be a surprise to the younger generation that Formula 1 have boasted multiple women in the past.

A total of five have driven in Grands Prix, with Italian Lella Lombardi perhaps the most famous.

The former Williams driver entered 17 races from 1974-76, and is the only female to gain a point (0.5), when she finished sixth at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix, ahead of the likes of legends James Hunt, Niki Lauda and Emerson Fittipaldi.

Maria Teresa de Filippis, Desire Wilson and multi-talented Brit Divina Galica also entered races, while another Italian Giovanna Amati is the last woman to do so in 1992.

In recent years, there have been several female F1 test drivers, including Simona de Silvestro, Carmen Jorda, the late Maria de Villota and Susie Wolff, wife of Mercedes boss Toto.

Horse racing

Although no female jockey has landed National Hunt’s premier prizes, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National at Aintree, a breakthrough for women riders came at Kempton Park’s King George meeting in December 2015.

Lizzie Kelly, riding for her stepfather trainer Nick Williams, partnered Tea For Two – her mother Jane’s horse – to win the 3m Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.

This victory was the first-ever by a woman in a Grade 1 race over either jumps or hurdles. The pair won a second elite contest together when capturing the Betway Bowl at the Aintree Grand National Festival this past spring.

On the flat, it’s been more than 30 years since a female jockey won a race at Royal Ascot. Despite Josephine Gordon’s best efforts, Gay Kelleway remains the last lady to triumph in front of the monarchy aboard Sprowston Boy in the 1987 Queen Alexandra Stakes.​


Beryl Burton may not be a household name, but she is one of the greats in the cycling world.

The late Yorkshire native dominated women’s cycling during the 1950s and 60s, breaking many records and was a seven-time world champion.

While she didn’t race with the opposite sex, she remarkably broke a male record and held it for two years.

In 1967, she set a new 12-hour time trial record of 277.25 miles, which was 0.73 better than then men’s record.

It is said that while setting the record she passed Mike McNamara, who setting the men’s record of 276.52 miles, and gave him a liquorice allsort (which he accepted) as she overtook him.


Being judged on accuracy, rather than physical attributes, darts is the perfect sport where men and women can take part against each other.

Prize money has so far prevented any female from taking on top male stars on a regular basis, but they have more than competed many a time in the past.

Three-time women’s world champion Anastasia Dobromyslova has perhaps been the most successful so far, taking part in the 2010 World Cup of Darts, and helping her nation Russia to a first round win.

She has also played in Major male events like the PDC World Championship, Grand Slam and UK Open.

Jamaican-born Deta Hedman is also a well known figure in darts, and is still going strong aged 57 as BDO women’s world number one.

She managed to get as far as the last 64 of the 2005 UK Open, beating two men along the way, and going further than stars such as Peter Wright, Rod Harrington, Steve Beaton, Alan Warriner and Glenn Durrant.

Currently, reigning women’s world champion Lisa Ashton has taken part in a number of men’s PDC Challenge Tour events in 2017, reaching the quarters of one in June.


Women have been known to play in men’s cricket at a reasonably high standard, such as regional leagues.

However, England’s Sarah Taylor became the first woman ever to play in Australian grade cricket in 2015, when she kept wicket for Northern Districts against Port Adelaide Magpies in the South Australian Premier Competition.

She made a decent account of herself too, taking a catch.

Taylor was also touted once to play for Sussex men’s second XI side.


Like darts, snooker is a sport set up for men and women to be on a level playing field.

It hasn’t quite kicked off for them yet, but Reanne Evans has given it the best shot yet of any female.

The 11-time Ladies World Snooker Championship winner, now 31, played on the main professional snooker tour during the 2010/11 season, though was unable to win a match.

In 2013, though, she qualified for 2013 Wuxi Classic to become the first women to reach the final stages of a ranking event (just one before the main draw).


Women’s wrestling has a storied history of its own, but there have been notable occasions when the ladies have laced up their boots and stepped into the ring with and alongside men.

Chyna, a member of the controversial Attitude Era stable D-Generation X, met Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWF Championship in the summer of 1999, having already become the first woman to compete in the Royal Rumble and the King of the Ring tournament.

She would go on to win two Intercontinental Championships, capturing the belt for the second time in an intergender tag team match at SummerSlam 2000 when partnered by Eddie Guerrero.

Intergender wrestling was brought to the WWE’s flagship pay-per-view event WrestleMania this past April when John Cena and real-life fiancee Nikki Bella beat married couple The Miz and Maryse.

Cena, a joint-record 16-time world heavyweight champion with Ric Flair, proposed to his partner after the match as reality and storyline ran side-by-side at WrestleMania 33.

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