She's Got Game

Women's professional tennis has cleared the way for an intersex player to compete on the tour. But with all of the questions her case raises about gender and biology, is women's tennis ready for Sarah Gronert?

BY Advocate.com Editors

April 09 2009 12:00 AM ET

Women's
professional tennis is coming to grips with one of the most
unusual cases in its 36-year history: an intersex player
competing on the tour.

Sarah Gronert, a
22-year-old German, was born with both male and female
characteristics. Gronert, who had surgery at 19 and is legally
a woman, has been cleared by both the International Tennis
Federation (ITF) and the WTA Tour to compete -- unlike
male-to-female transsexual Renée Richards, who was
forced to sue to secure the right to play on the women's
tour in the 1970s. "It's a one-of-a-kind case," says
out lesbian Martina Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam singles
champion who now comments for cable outlet the Tennis
Channel.

An ITF spokesman
confirmed by e-mail that Gronert "is legally and biologically
a woman and entitled to play on the ITF and WTA professional
circuits." The ITF oversees the four Grand Slams and
tournaments that fall below the main WTA circuit. A WTA
official said the tour became aware of Gronert's case last
spring and conducted a review with a medical delegate during
the summer and fall of 2008. Gronert requested the review, the
official said.

Under its bylaws, the
WTA can question the eligibility of a player and require gender
verification to determine sexual status. "The rule is
designed to recognize the verified and legitimate gender of
individuals, while also minimizing any gender-related
advantages," said tour spokesman Andrew Walker. "Under this
rule, Gronert is eligible to compete on the tour as a
female."

Gronert has enjoyed
moderate success this season, winning two ITF titles. This
week, Gronert, who has earned less than $7,500 in prize money,
is at a career high ranking of 574, some 180 places
above where she finished in 2008.

Much remains unclear
about Gronert's past and she has declined to speak to the
media. The details of her case and the player's medical
records are confidential, Walker said. Gronert could not be
reached through the ITF, which declined to provide additional
information. A spokesman for the German Tennis Federation said
Gronert does not want to discuss her "personal
background."

According to intersex
expert Heino Meyer-Bahlburg, an intersex condition
covers a wide spectrum of possible manifestations that
generally reflect some kind of congenital anomaly. "There are
many different conditions and many different hormonal
pictures," says Meyer-Bahlburg, a professor of clinical
psychology at Columbia University.

Tags: Sports

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