"Bettyann was the first girl who was a top player that I met at Newport Beach, and she was the first girl to support me as a player and as a person. The very first one. For that reason, Bettyann is my doubles partner. When I arrived at Forest Hills, I was asked by about 25 girls to be their doubles partner. But I simply went and wrote in our names. Richards-Stuart. She didn't even know I did."
Rene Richards and Bettyann Stuart lost in the women's doubles championship of the U.S. Open tennis tournament here today, 6-1, 7-6, to Martina Navratilove and Betty Stove. Her $3,725 split of the runner-up money is Richard's largest paycheck in her year-old professional tennis career.
And it's only the beginning, she said.
Because she is a transsexual who underwent sex-reassignment surgery - she had been Richard Raskin, and eye doctor with a lucrative practice in New York - Richards' presence in the women's tennis generated a firestorm of protests and insults. Only an order issued by the New York State Supreme Court enabled her to play in this U.S. Open. That order ended a year of legal hassles that Richards endured in her belief that she should be allowed to do anything other woman can do.
It was Richard's misfortune to draw the reigning Wimbledon champion, Virginia Wade, in the first round of singles here. Wade won, 6-1, 6-4, and as far as most people knew, that was the end of Richards here. They forgot about the doubles, because it rates little attention in the newspapers, and that's how Richards like it. In hopes it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, she keeps saying she is being accepted more often as Renee Richards, tennis player not Renee Richard, freak.
"The newspaper stories just said the doubles team of Richards and Stuart had won again," Richards said in the press tent today. She carried a bouquet of roses givent ot each player. "That's all Richards and Stuart. Then they said. 'Hey, you know who's in the doubles finals? Richards and Stuart.'"
She was happy and smiling, a picture of pride, and she said the 10 days of Forest Hills had been a wonderful learning experience. She will go on the women's tour now, all over the world, and she'll play World Team Tennis with the Cleveland Nets.
"The heat is off now and I can just go about my business," Richards said. "I can play tournament and just enjoy myself. This morning I spoke with Virginia Wade and she said, 'Renee, you're looking more relaxed every day.' I am.
"It's been a very good experience for me. Each time I go on court with Virginia Wade, Martina Navratilova, Betty Stove, it's good for me. I won't be awed the next time I play Virginia. And I think the girls have learned I can't play."
Stuart, the wife of a tennis pro in Newport Beach, Calif., said Richards "hasn't played up to her potential."
Though Richard Raskin had been a nationally ranked amateur player in the over-35 category, that is small preparation for competition with the world's leading women pros.
"She's playing against different people in different situations," Stuart said. "She hasn't had a chance to unleash what she really has."
She will have unending opportunities now, according to her business manager, David Duffam, whose clients include entertainers and athletes (the most prominent, he said, being a Los Angeles rock group named Pegasus).
"All the psysicians in the world want her to play in some charity tournament," Buffman said. "We get invitations to more tournaments than we could ever handle."
A book on Richards' life is in the works, and film producers want to see the book as soon as possible, Buffam said. He's quick to add, though, that Richards won't get rich out of this.
"She's spent so much money, I don't know if she could ever get even," Buffam said. "With those lawyers, you can go through $200,000 before you know it."
No one will have to loan Richards money, though. "For 17 years, she was one of the leading opthamologists in the world," Buffam said. "You can figure out for yourself if she has any money or not."
Richards has not retired from medicine, she said. "I'm on a temporary leave of absence."
In the double championship today, Richards played well, especially at the net, and a reporter wondered if, at age 43, her future as a pro was in doubles, rather than singles.
"Most of my friends laughed that I got so far in the doubles," Richards said. "I'm a singles player. The reason I go so far in the doubles is Bettyann Stuart. She's the best doubles player in the world."
Anyway, Richards said, she's not all that old.
"Nancy Richey got to the final of the National Clay Courts and she's 35. And some others (here a smile began) are probably as old as I am. But, unfortunately, I've had so much notoriety that everyone knows my birthday and other girls can hid theirs."
A reporter had The Question. Sure, Richards is 43 and the girls feel she's no threat because of her age, but what if - What If? - she was 23 or 24, would she dominate the pro tour?
Richards smiled nicely. "I'm not going to dominate at my age," she said, and she sounded as if she meant it.