Amélie Mauresmo, athlete (LGBT History Month)
Amélie Mauresmo was the World No. 1 tennis player. She won 25 career titles including two Grand Slams. In 2004, she received an Olympic Silver medal in tennis singles. Bent Alaska presents her story as part of our celebration of LGBT History Month 2011, with thanks to the Equality Forum.
Amélie Mauresmo (born July 5, 1979) was the World No. 1 tennis player. She won 25 career titles including two Grand Slams. In 2004, she received an Olympic Silver medal in tennis singles.
Mauresmo was born in Laye, France, where she began playing tennis at age 4. Her talent on the court was quickly recognized, and her parents enrolled her in private lessons. At 17, she was named Junior World Champion after winning both the French Open and Wimbledon.
In 1999, two years into her professional career, Mauresmo came out during the Australian Open. She publicly embraced her girlfriend after defeating the World No. 1 player, Lindsay Davenport. Ten years later, at the point of her retirement from tennis, Douglas Robson wrote in The Advocate about that moment:
A jubilant Mauresmo voluntarily disclosed to the press that she is a lesbian — and that her girlfriend had accompanied her Down Under. Unfortunately, the reaction was unkind: The Australian tabloids had a field day, and crass comments from her peers didn’t help. Then-number 1 Lindsay Davenport, whom Mauresmo beat in the semifinals, remarked on Mauresmo’s power, saying she thought she was playing a guy. Then-superstar Martina Hingis — who beat Mauresmo in the final — called her “half a man” and complained about her girlfriend’s presence at the match. The negative attention nearly obscured Mauresmo’s accomplishment in competing for the championship as an unseeded player.
But Mauresmo didn’t flinch. She said she was unwilling to expend energy hiding her sexual orientation and felt “sorry” for those who were having a hard time dealing with it.
Mauresmo credited her on-court success to coming to terms with her sexuality. She is the first tennis player to come out without losing any major sponsors.
Mauresmo is one of only a few tennis players to reach World No. 1 ranking before winning a Grand Slam title, both of which came in 2006 with her win in the Australian Open and at Wimbledon. Outsports named her 2006 win at Wimbledon as one of its top 100 moments in gay sports history. Known for her powerful one-handed backhand and net play, Mauresmo has defeated top-ranked players such as Venus and Serena Williams, Martina Hingis, and Justine Henin. In 2003, she helped France capture the Fed Cup.
In 2007, the president of France presented Mauresmo with the Legion of Honor. Two years later, she announced her retirement.
Her legacy? The Advocate‘s Douglas Robson put it this way:
Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova came before, but Mauresmo’s path has been fundamentally different in three ways: She came out at the beginning of her career, she did so of her own volition, and she says she’s had no problems attracting sponsorships. By contrast, King was dragged out of the closet by a palimony suit, while Navratilova tiptoed out little by little, going fully public only toward the end of her career. By most estimates, both lost out on millions in potential endorsements.
If King was the pioneer and Navratilova the outspoken, take-me-or-leave-me activist, Mauresmo could be remembered for unobtrusively being herself. Though her coming-out was bolder and riskier than that of her forerunners, Mauresmo has rarely strayed beyond the 36-by-78-foot playing lines of the tennis court to influence society at large. “I don’t know that she ever wanted to be a barrier breaker,” Carillo says. “I don’t think she had the ego of a Martina or a Billie. She just wanted to quietly insist on herself.”
Since retiring, Mauresmo has coached other professional tennis players. In 2009, she became ambassador of the Sport for Life Foundation, a Swiss-based organization dedicated to supporting young athletes. “I want to share the experiences I’ve gathered along my career with young people so they cannot walk into traps,” she says. “Respect for values is the foundation for success!”
Mauresmo resides in Geneva, Switzerland.