Match Point

Ten years ago, Amélie Mauresmo came out of the closet after her breakout run to the finals at the Australian Open. Two Grand Slam titles and several dives in the rankings later, is she putting her formidable backhand to bed forever?

BY Advocate.com Editors

January 05 2009 12:00 AM ET

But that's one kind of success. What about Mauresmo's legacy as an out athlete?

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."

Mauresmo certainly believes her legacy will be her game, and not anything to do with being gay. "I definitely think people are going to remember my ability to come in, to slice, to put some spin [on the ball], to serve and volley, and to mix things up a lot," she says, adding a nod to her perseverance, "I definitely hung in there."

What hasn't materialized, though, is a new wave of openly gay players. Mauresmo maintains she's never had issues with her peers or coaches because of her sexuality, so where are the others? Mauresmo says no closeted players have asked for her advice.

Carillo says the closet in tennis is no different from that in other sports. As both media scrutiny and commercial opportunities have grown, so has the collective cocoon around stars. "È‚f;'It's none of your business' is more the attitude," she says. And Australian player Rennae Stubbs, a top-ranked doubles specialist and the only other out lesbian currently on tour, says there's "no doubt that sponsorship is a major part" of why people don't come out.

But Mauresmo's popularity among her fellow players surely means something. Admired for her tennis skills as well as her affable, straightforward manner, she can often be found in the locker room or players' restaurant playing the French card game belote with her coach and other male and female compatriots. An informal survey of players and pundits turned up nary an unfavorable word.

"I can't think of people who have said negative things about her," says TV analyst and former pro Pam Shriver. "She's classy," Stubbs adds. "Maybe they wanted to not like her, but in the end you couldn't not like Amélie Mauresmo."

Mauresmo can add to her legacy with another big win this year. For now she'll likely be remembered for getting the demons off her back at Wimbledon, for handling her first major victory in Australia with equanimity, and for defying any layer of phoniness almost from the outset of her career. She'll also be remembered for an engaging frankness and ability to enjoy some of the finer things in life. "If there's one player I'd like to sit down and have a glass of wine with, it would be Mauresmo," Carillo says. "And preferably her wine."

Yes, the Frenchwoman is an oenophile, with a wine cellar in her home, and she'd like to combine her two passions in the future. "Tennis is my life, so I would like to stay involved," she says, but a Mauresmo wine label may be in store too. What varietal? "A red for sure -- a Bordeaux, good body, fruity."

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