In recent years, the world, and many closed countries, have become more and more aware of LGBTQ rights and the issues that the community faces.
The sporting world hasn't been ignorant of the discussion, and many athletes in the recent past have found themselves comfortable enough to come out as gay or lesbian. Unlike several other sports, where homosexual athletes have received serious backlash and threats, tennis has been largely open and non-homophobic.
Tennis is arguably one of the world’s most gay-friendly sports. Many former champions are openly gay, and those include the greatest of champions.
Here is a list of five homosexual tennis players who have achieved a lot of success:
5. Casey Dellacqua
Australian ace Casey Dellacqua came out as lesbian when she revealed, in 2013, that she had had a baby with her long-term partner, Amanda Judd.
Judd is the birth mother of their son Blake, and Dellacqua went on record to say that Blake was her ‘lucky charm’.
In a 2013 interview after his birth, Dellacqua said she was "juggling being a working mom", and that she found the creches provided to players at Grand Slams “super useful.”
A doubles specialist, Dellacqua was once the third-ranked doubles player in the world. She has reached the finals of every Grand Slam in the women’s doubles, winning the 2011 French Open mixed doubles title with American Scott Lipsky.
4. Lisa Raymond
Country: United States of America
Duration: 1990s, 2000s, 2010s
Grand Slams: 11
Olympic medals: 1
Regarded as one of the best doubles and mixed-doubles players in the sport, Lisa Raymond has 11 Grand Slam titles to her name. In a career spanning two decades, she first conquered the top spot in the ATP doubles ranking in June 2000. Raymond repeated the feat on several occasions after that, and she also has the distinction of winning a Olympic medal.
Raymond openly acknowledges her lesbianism, and was in a long-term relationship with her former doubles partner Rennae Stubbs (also in our list, but not top 5).
Raymond has been quoted as saying: "I came out because I knew that there would be life after tennis, and being gay and playing tennis is not a big deal. There have been a lot of women in sports that have come out, and it’s not seen as anything ‘wow’."
3. Gigi Fernandez
"The most beautiful tennis star of her times"
Country: Puerto Rico / USA
Duration: 1980s, 1990s
Grand Slams: 17
Olympic medals: 2
The first Puerto Rican female athlete to turn professional, the first to win an Olympic gold medal and the first to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Gigi Fernandez was a role model for numerous girls of her country.
Fernandez won 17 Grand Slam doubles titles and two Olympic gold medals while representing the United States of America. Given her enormous success, the World No. 1 ranking in women’s doubles didn't remain out of reach either.
Highly regarded as one of the most beautiful tennis stars of her era, Fernandez has been an entrepreneur and tennis coach since her retirement in 1997.
Although Fernandez came out publicly as being a lesbian at a time when her career was at its peak, her globe-trotting career made it extremely difficult for her to sustain a long-term relationship. After her retirement she met Jane Geddes, four years older and an 11-time winner on the LPGA tour, and presently the couple are happy parents to two children.
2. Billie Jean King
“The greatest competitor I’ve ever known” - Margaret Court on Billie Jean King
Country: United States of America
Duration: Late 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, early 1980s
Grand Slams: 39
A true innovator, Billie Jean King started a new era in world tennis by founding the Women’s Tennis Association, the Women’s Sports Foundation, and the World Team Tennis. Having won 39 Grand Slams titles in total (12 singles, 16 women’s doubles and 11 mixed doubles titles), her win-loss record is >80% in all types of competitions - including the Grand Slams.
King has always been an advocate for sexual equality, and she even won "The Battle of the Sexes" tennis match in 1973. She first got married to Larry King, but their relationship grew increasingly distant as her career blossomed. In the late 1960s King began to have relationships with women.
She kept her attraction towards and relationships with women hidden for long. In 1981, she reluctantly came out as lesbian when Marilyn Barnett (an ex-lover and personal secretary) filed a very public palimony suit.
Although King admitted the affair to the world, she called it a "mistake" and refused to acknowledge that she was a lesbian.
She admitted later that the main reason she didn’t come out publicly was the fear of losing her sponsors. But Barnett's lawsuit weakened her financial status anyway, with several of her sponsors withdrawing their support.
Later King claimed that coming out publicly as a lesbian was her "longest, hardest journey". Today, she is an international leader in seeking recognition and equal rights for gays and lesbians.
"The greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who’s ever lived" - Billie Jean King on Martina Navratilova
Country: Czech Republic / United States of America
Duration: Late 1970s, 1980s, early 1990s, Mid 2000s
Grand Slams: 59
A haul of 59 Grand Slams is not something to joke about, but that's just how great Martina Navratilova was. She rose above all kinds of mockery to become the best there ever was.
Apart from the sheer number of Majors to her credit, Navratilova also accomplished the extremely rare feat of completing a career Grand Slam in singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles (called the Grand Slam “boxed set”). She is also the only person of either sex to have won eight different tournaments at least seven times.
She returned to the court a few years back during her late 40s, thus proving that her mettle and will power were second to none.
Navratilova came out publicly in 1991 through The Advocate. As a consequence, she started losing support from her sponsors and was treated like a pariah in the world of tennis. Her lesbianism was considered a contrast to the image that women’s tennis was trying to display.
Navratilova has also been famous for expensive break-ups with her girlfriends. She settled with one of her ex-lovers Toni Layton for an estimated $3 million in 2010. Long back, in 1991, Navratilova had split with Judy Nelson after a long relationship of eight years, and paid a rumored $3.5 million.
Presently, Navratilova is involved with various charities that advocate gay and lesbian rights.
Here are 3 other great tennis players who also came out:
Country: United States of America
Duration: Late 1920s, 1930s, early 1940s
Grand Slams: 10
10 Grand Slam titles in women’s tennis during the 1930s says a lot about this great tennis player. Apart from tennis, she was also involved in the US Navy intelligence during World War II in the capacity of a commander.
Long known to have been lesbian, Helen’s lifelong companion was Virginia Gurnee. Helen managed her game and her sexual orientation without any controversy, which is a mark of how straightforward she was with her public life.
Duration: 1990s, 2000s, Early 2010s
Grand Slams: 6
Two of the major achievements that define Rennae Stubbs are her haul of 6 Grand Slams titles, and her run of four consecutive Olympic representations. She is also the longest-serving member of the Australia Fed Cup team: 17 years.
Stubbs has a reputation for being frank and honest about her sexuality. She said she got plenty of positive reinforcement and positive comments from fans after she came out. She was in a long term relationship with former doubles partner Lisa Raymond.
Once, in an interview, Stubbs said, “I’d just like to be a little bit more open about it now because I want some 16-year-old girl out there to think, ‘It’s OK’. All it is is somebody loving somebody. And it would be nice if everybody could just accept that it’s not a choice, this is who you are. You would never, ever choose this, choose to be gay. It’s such a difficult thing to deal with and coming out to people and talking about it, and coming out to your family.”
Duration: 1990s, 2000s
Grand Slams: 2
Olympics medals: 1
The most famous homosexual tennis player in recent times, Amelie Mauresmo has been there, done that. She has been World No.1, won Grand Slam titles and an Olympics medal, and even been a successful coach.
After being active on the court for about 10 years, Mauresmo retired in 2009.
The international media repeatedly pestered Mauresmo in her early career, asking her about boyfriends. Then one fine day, before the final of the 1999 Australian Open, she came out (about her girlfriend) in an simple yet strong fashion: “You can say she’s my girlfriend. You can write about her. I don’t want to hide Sylvie. I love her.” The prevalent rumors about her sexuality immediately stopped.
Mauresmo’s disclosure of her sexuality didn't hurt her career or the image of the sport in any way. Her major sponsors stuck with her and supported her decision to come out.
Mauresmo went on to coach Andy Murray in 2015, and has been an active member in tennis circles of late.