Best Tennis Writing of the Week: What Could Have Been for Seles, Navratilova’s Legacy, and Ballet

In a new weekly feature, I will use the weekends to take a look back at some of my favorite tennis writing of the week. Here’s a link to last week’s list.

My Top 5 Tennis Reads of the Week:

1. “Stabbing stole Monica Seles’ career” by Melissa Isaacson for ESPNW.

Of all the articles this week on the 20th anniversary of the tragic stabbing of Monica Seles, this one from Isaacson was the most comprehensive and touching. It includes quotes from Martina Navratilova, Pam Shriver, Mary Joe Fernandez, and Seles herself, and really gets to the heart of what is, what was, and what should have been.

Before an unemployed sicko changed tennis history and got away with it; before he walked down through the stands in Hamburg, Germany, and past a crowd distracted by a changeover; before he leaned over a 3-foot barrier and plunged a 9-inch knife between her shoulders, Monica Seles was not only the best women’s tennis player in the world. She was also the toughest.

Once a legitimate threat to break Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles; once a source of constant frustration to Steffi Graf, who is No. 2 with 22 Slam wins; once one of the toughest competitors in all of sports, Seles didn’t just have her career altered on that awful day 20 years ago. It was stolen from her.

2. “Jason Collins a ‘game-changer'” by Martina Navratilova for Sports Illustrated.

Jason Collins opening up about his sexuality was the story of the week for the sports world, and trailblazer Martina Navratilova–who Collins called an inspiration–had quite the grasp of the issue. Though this isn’t specifically about tennis, anything written by Martina Navratilova gets to be considered tennis writing. And this is definitely a must-read.

Now that Jason Collins has come out, he is the proverbial “game-changer.” One of the last bastions of homophobia has been challenged. How many LGBT kids, once closeted, are now more likely to pursue a team sport and won’t be scared away by a straight culture?

Collins has led the way to freedom. Yes, freedom — because that closet is completely and utterly suffocating. It’s only when you come out that you can breathe properly. It’s only when you come out that you can be exactly who you are. Collins’ action will save lives. This is no exaggeration: Fully one third of suicides among teenagers occur because of their sexuality. Collins will truly affect lives, too. Millions of kids will see that it is OK to be gay. No need for shame, no need for embarrassment, no need for hiding.

3. “A reluctant trailblazer, Navratilova laid groundwork for Collins” by Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated.

While Navratilova keeps the focus on Collins and not herself in her essay above, Jon Wertheim rightly turns to spotlight back to Martina in his article about the weight her coming out had on the sports world, and on Collins individually. It’s so important to remember what Martina went through 32 years ago and how that laid the foundation for where we are today.

But Navratilova’s capacity for hitting a ball over a net? Her “coming out” didn’t hinder that. Not in the least. In 1982, the first full season after her announcement, her match record was a preposterous 90-3, as she became the first female athlete to earn more than $1 million in prize money in a single year. She was even better in 1983, going 86-1. There’s your precedent.

She’d later say that, if anything, the security she gained in coming out catalyzed her tennis career. She started to eat right and train right and “feel free.” And as she established herself as a Mt. Olympus athlete, she was at ease discussing her sexuality.

Male sportswriter: “Martina, are you still a lesbian?”

Navratilova: “Are you still the alternative?”

4. “Homosexuality in the world of tennis” by Nathii Gawronska of Tennis Alternative.

To continue with the theme, Gawronska took the topic of the week as an opportunity to translate the essay that she wrote for a Polish magazine “Tenis Gem Set Mecz” a few years ago into English. The result is a comprehensive and invaluable look at the threads of homosexuality in tennis throughout the years, ranging from Bill Tilden to Billie Jean King to Amelie Mauresmo. As Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick joined Athlete Ally and fans and media discussed whether the ATP was ready for an openly gay player, this essay provided some much-needed perspective.

60 years after von Cramm, Paraguayan player Francisco Rodriguez came out of the closet. He was no big name. His successes were playing for his country in Davis Cup, some performances in challengers, futures and US college tennis. Now he lives in Atlanta, Georgia, US.

“I finished my career, because I wanted to have a boyfriend. I miss travels and tournaments, but it’s impossible to be gay on the ATP Tour,” he comments.

This quote gives more light on why other tennis players don’t want to reveal their preferences. Reportedly, you can feel gutted and hopeless from homophobic comments in ATP locker rooms. It’s enough to quote Andre Agassi from his public press conference, “I was happy like a faggot in the submarine.”

5. “Dancing Around It” by Steve Tignor of

It’s not often that doping in tennis is the “light” subject of the bunch, but that was how things went this particular week. This beautiful essay by Tignor explores the beauty of ballet, the ugliness and doping, and relief that the tennis world is finally beginning to wake up to the severity of the issue.

In the last few months, I’ve been a little surprised by the sudden awakening in the tennis world, since Lance Armstrong’s confession, to the possibility that players could be doping. Andy Murray’s 180 degree turn, from a man who once complained about testing to a man who now demands much more of it, was continued this week when he ripped a Spanish judge’s decision to destroy evidence from the Operation Puerto raid. Murray isn’t the only one. The topic of doping and testing went from back burner to front burner in a hurry.

There’s an element of ballet, of artistry, in tennis; it’s not purely athletic, the way running and swimming and cycling are. No one wants to believe that a beautiful one-handed backhand is anything but a product of nature and practice. Unfortunately, it’s a good thing we’ve started thinking about it.

Other Winners:

-This article by Wertheim written back in January about the legacy of Brad Drewett is a timely read in the wake of his unfortunate and too-soon death. The ATP CEO will sorely be missed.

-I also enjoyed reading this piece by tennis writer and media aficionado Nick McCarvel for the Daily Beast on what Jason Collins’ coming out meant to him and the future of gay athletes in sports.

-Everyone is following Pavs on Instagram, right? RIGHT? Good.

Tweets I Loved:

Lindsay is an author, a filmmaker, a long-winded blogger, and a huge tennis fan.

One Response

  1. Nathii
    Nathii May 6, 2013 at 6:56 am |

    Thanks for the mention. Actually, I find it striking, because once in a while we put some deeper commentary on TA than just tournament updates, and I was sure the homosexuality on tour would be a hit for the readers. But no, it completely wasn’t. It had like 5-6 times less interest than the take on Vika Azarenka’s injury at AO, disappearing challengers, comments on 25 seconds rule, risks for players in Mexico etc.

    I know all of these topics are important, but given that stat, I think it’s safe to say homosexuality is still being some tabboo for tennis players and tennis fans, despite much has been written lately on this topic.

    Good job with the homosexuality recap of the week 🙂

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