Tennis Memorabilia Remains Under-Appreciated in the World of Sports Collectibles
One of the two rackets Billie Jean King used to beat Bobby Riggs in the 1973 Battle of the Sexes sold for $125,000.
Memorabilia outside the four major sports of baseball, football, basketball, and hockey are often overlooked by collectors. Tennis is one such sport that highlights the popularity of the game with an array of memorabilia. It’s one of the most revered of the niche sports ranking up there with soccer, golf, and even horse racing.
Many of the sport’s biggest stars have become household names. Billie Jean King, Chrissy Everett, Martina Navratilova, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Anna Kournikova, Maria Sharapova, Venus, and Serena Williams, are just a sampling of names familiar to most people.
The individual nature of the sport allows the players’ personalities to be on full display during competition. The range of emotions players exhibit during matches helps to create an incomparable connection with fans that is absent in other sports. As such, fans and collectors gravitate to those players for which that bond has occurred. This attachment has resulted in big dollars for player-used memorabilia.
On September 30th, 1973, a crowd of more than 30,000 people packed the former Houston Astrodome to watch a tennis match billed as the “The Battle of the Sexes.” Another 90 million people watched the made for TV event from the comfort of their homes. The match took place at the height of the proposed constitutional amendment seeking equal rights for women. Men’s tennis professional Bobby Riggs made the inflammatory statement that there wasn’t a single female tennis star on Earth that could beat him. Billie Jean King, with 39 Grand Slam titles to her credit, disproved that misogynist theory winning in straight sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs arm wrestle after they announced they would face each other in a $100,000 winner-take-all tennis match.
The racket she used to beat Riggs is shown at the top of the article and was sold by the Bonham’s auction house in 2017. It is one of only two rackets used by King during her epic match, and the only one whose whereabouts are currently known. King had donated the racket to charity in 1982 and it was bought by its current owner in 1996. Despite not reaching its pre-auction estimate of $200,000 it did sell, for a still impressive sum of $125,000.
One of the most coveted of all tournaments is The Championships, Wimbledon, simply referred to as Wimbledon. It is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments. As a result of its prestige, memorabilia associated with the tournament can command tens of thousands of dollars. Here is a look at some of the top selling pieces of sports memorabilia from Wimbledon.
- Bjorn Borg’s racket (shown below) used during the 1981 Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final was sold at Christie’s in 2007 for $18,500.
1981 Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final.
- Arthur Ashes’ runner’s up medal was sold for $21,013 at Nate D. Sanders auctioneers in 2013.
- Fred Perry’s Racket from the 1934 Wimbledon Final sold for $32,000 in 1997.
- In 1933, this poster below was displayed all over London subways. This original example was sold at for $35,000 at Christie’s in 2012.
In 1933, this poster below was displayed all over London subways. This original version sold for $35,000 in 2012.
- Bjorn Borg’s personal trophy of the President’s Cup from the 1976 Wimbledon sold for $37,000 at Christie’s in 2007.
- Fred Perry’s Renshaw Cup Trophy from the Men’s Singles title of the 1936 Wimbledon sold at Christie’s in 2006 for $44,000.
- Ellsworth Vines’ 1932 Renshaw Cup Trophy sold through Heritage Auctions in 2013 for $47,800.
In the Cards
As with other sports, trading cards can provide a much more affordable option for collectors. Tennis is no different. In recent years, there have been a small handful of companies to produce licensed tennis trading cards – Ace Authentic, Leaf Trading Cards, and Upper Deck. The prices realized for some of the top selling cards in recent months still might surprise those unfamiliar with the trading card genre.
This card shown below from 2011 Ace Authentic features dual signatures of longtime rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal sold for almost $900 this past April.
This card features dual signatures of longtime rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and sold for almost $900 this past April.
Trading card manufacturer Upper Deck issued its employees this card of Serena Williams after signing the legendary star to an exclusive licensing agreement last year. It contains a swatch of one of Serena’s match-worn tennis outfits and her signatures. This copy sold for $800 this past March.
This card contains a swatch of one of Serena’s match-worn tennis outfits and her signatures. This copy sold for $800 this past March.
According to the WorthPoint database, this autographed rookie card below of Roger Federer sold in 2010 for an impressive $1,000.
An autographed rookie card below of Roger Federer sold in 2010 for an impressive $1,000.
As with other sports, tennis balls, both match-used, and autographed are also highly collectible. However, the difficult nature of their signing surface makes them less appealing to their comparable counterparts like baseballs or footballs. Even so, some collectors still hold them in high regard.
This pair of tennis balls shown below, one match used, the other autographed by Rafael Nadal, sold this past April for the bargain price of $150.
This pair of tennis balls, one match used, the other autographed by Rafael Nadal, sold this past April for the bargain price of $150.
One of the nice things about collecting tennis memorabilia is that there is less market competition. As a result, prices can be much more affordable. This is true for the game’s biggest and future stars. Regardless of your collecting budget, if you are a fan of this grand sport, there are plenty of options to begin or add to a collection.
Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 25 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been involved with multi-media content development for several sports collectibles websites. Currently the Senior Marketing Manager for Sports & Entertainment at the hobby distributor GTS Distribution, he is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live streaming and nationally broadcast web show, Go GTS Live – The Hobby’s Web Show. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.
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