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The Man Who Beat Venus and Serena Back-to-Back

The Battle of the Sexes returned to the big screen this year.

The feature film on the famed 1973 match between Hall of Famers Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs hit theaters on September 22nd—44 years after it became one of the most widely-viewed sporting events of its time.

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More than 30,000 fans attended the match at the Houston Astrodome, an estimated 50 million viewers watched ABC’s live coverage and millions of dollars were bet on the outcome.

A quarter of a century after King beat Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes, 203rd-ranked German Karsten Braasch beat Serena Williams and Venus Williams back-to-back at the 1998 Australian Open.

Tennis writer Harvey Fialkov caught up with the 50-year-old Braasch, the second seed at the ITF's Seniors World Individual 50s draw in Flamingo Park, to recall the day he swept a 16-year-old Serena and a 16th-ranked Venus in succession—without even unleashing his first serve.

"I was sitting there [in the tournament office] when the girls were saying they could beat any man ranked outside 200," Braasch told Fialkov. "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."

The bearded Braasch, wearing glasses resembling swimming goggles and a baggy Reebok shirt, looked more like a mad scientist than a tennis pro as he squared off against Serena on Court 17 at Melbourne Park in a match played before a few hundred fans without linespeople, a chair umpire or TV cameras.

The quirky lefty's herky-jerky serve and masterful skill shifting spins and creating obscure angles befuddled the teenage Serena as Braasch prevailed, 6-1.

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

Venus, who supported Serena from the stands, challenged Braasch immediately after the set to only a slightly better result. The German, who had a fondness for smoking Marlboros during some changeovers, extended rallies and deployed the same disorientating array of spins defeating Venus, 6-2.

"Both sisters are great tennis players and hit the ball extremely well," Braasch recalled in an account he wrote of the match for The Guardian titled How to Beat Both Williams Sisters. "However, if you've been playing on the men's tour there are certain shots you can play that are going to put them in difficulty.

"I was hitting the ball with a degree of spin they don't face week-in, week-out. Another key is to chase down every shot. In our match, they were putting shots into the corners that on the women's tour would be winners but I was able to return them. In the end I won, but neither myself, nor Venus or Serena took the game too seriously—we were just having a bit of fun."

Still, the man who conquered both sisters in succession offered them a rematch after hearing Serena's thoughts on the match.

"Apparently, after the game, Serena and Venus immediately told the press they wanted to challenge a male player again," Braasch said. "This time they revised the ranking of the man they wanted to face, to 350 in the world. I informed the journalist who told me this that in the next week I was set to lose a lot of ATP points and drop down to 350 in the rankings. I told him that if Venus and Serena waited just one week they could challenge me all over again!"

Braasch learned what happens in Melbourne, stays in Melbourne.

"That (rematch) never came about, but when I saw Venus a few months later at the French Open she came up to me with a big smile on her face and said, 'You know that thing in Australia—it never happened!' " Braasch recalled.

Photo credit: Reuters