Only a year has passed since French tennis pro Amelie Mauresmo came out of the closet at age 19. She’d just worsted leading champion Lindsay Davenport in a match at the Australian Open. Ms. Davenport had hardly been a good sport about it. After her loss she’d said of Amelie:
“A couple of times I thought I was playing a guy, the girl was hitting it so hard. She’s so strong in those shoulders. She hits the ball, you know, not like any other girl. She hits it so hard and with so much topspin. Women’s tennis is not usually played like that. … The shoulders looked huge. I think that they must have grown.”
Later Ms. Davenport felt it necessary to clarify her remarks, insisting that she hadn’t meant to cast aspersions on Amelie’s sexual orientation.
But Tina Turner’s famed question “What’s Love got to Do with It?” got one of its best answers in the person of Amelie. She credited her victory to the presence of a newfound love in her life, running to the arms of Sylvie Bourdon, and telling reporters:
“Looking up at Sylvie during the match was that little extra support that I needed. It gave me strength. Finding Sylvie and having such a good personal life now has made the difference in my tennis. It had been the missing part of my life.”
At that time, Amelie had known Sylvie only five weeks. The media, commenting on the teenager’s success in the match, approached Sylvie, looking to confirm the young winners’s diagnosis. Sylvie replied:
“I am her lover, not her psychiatrist. But we talk and talk like therapy so that she feels more positive and confident about herself and her tennis. She wasn’t getting that kind of support, and it was affecting her on court. Now she has a good balance in her life and is happy.”
The controversy over Amelie’s sexual orientation was given extra spotlights, however, when she lost the 1999 tournament to Martina Hingis who, following their match, deliberately insulted Amelie while discussing her with reporters. “She is half man,” said a dismissive Hingis in German, “Sie ist ein halber Mann”
This year, Amelie served up the best kind of reply to her antagonist, defeating the world’s number one player at in the semi-finals of the Sydney International. The score was 7-5 6-3.
An Australian commentator noted: “It was just desserts for (Amelie) Mauresmo, who was the subject of some ugly and very public taunts last year from the top players such as Hingis, who decided they didn’t like her muscles or her sexual preferences.”
Prior to this year’s match, another Australian commentator, refusing to forget what Hingis had said about Amelie wrote: “Sins committed against the sisterhood last summer have come back to haunt Martina Hingis.” Amelie’s physical appearance was described in the warmest of terms as that of a “statuesque 20-year-old.”
It was also said that Amelie was relishing the opportunity to meet Hingis on the courts and that she was not bitter about last year’s insults. “It’s not like we are really good friends, you know, but it’s OK, nothing special,” she said.
Hingis, too self-assured before her loss, had downplayed Amelie’s capabilities, saying she hadn’t yet proved herself as a top notch player. She said:
“Of course she made the finals last year but now it will show if she can really stay in the top level, if she can do the same things again.”
After a year’s passage, a confident Amelie credited her self-assurance to Sylvie who, she said, had opened her eyes to “life and love.” In the past 12 months the female couple had grown only closer, with Sylvie continuing to inspire her young champion-lover.
Australia’s news media has clearly relished Amelie’s victory over the biased Hingis, explaining how she’d taken “her revenge by making Hingis look like a little girl lost,” and by comparing “(Amelie) Mauresmo’s superb fitness” to a Martina Hingis who ” looked small and slow.”
“I think my backhand is my weapon, ” said Amelie of her performance, described by reporters as “a patient display laced with power and purpose.”
Australians noted also how Amelie was gracious in victory, having taken no free points off court and paying tribute to her one-time oppressor.
“Winning against the world number one is great, I think she’s a very good player. Beating her gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season.”
By Jack Nichols