(This story was published in 2006).
By: Jason Page
One of our own stands atop the tennis world after the seasons first Grand Slam.
For the past few years I highly doubted I would put those words down in a column. Amelie Mauresmo didn’t give me or anyone else in the tennis world much reason to believe she would ever win “The Big One.” We’ve gone through the repeated disappointments of the French Woman who hadn’t even made a trip to a Final in a Grand Slam since her first and only back in 1999 (a loss to Martina Hingis in the Finals of this same tournament.)
A Mauresmo victory over Justine Henin-Hardenne could completely change the course of her career. Or, it could be a blip on the radar as she fades into the backdrop of the tennis world. The latter might be just fine with most of the gay media that completely ignored her run through this tournament. Instead, some chose to do stories on the final season of "Will and Grace" or something else that was more “juicy” than the out-lesbian winning one of the four major professional tennis tournaments. As a news director put it to me: “What's the gay angle here???”
To give this story its full attention, we have to be fair and put this win into some sort of context. It has to be said that Mauresmo’s last two victories in her first Grand Slam win came with injury forfeits. That’s a first for a Grand Slam winner. I’ve read some reports and even heard some make mentions of asterisks when jotting this Grand Slam win for Mauresmo into the record books. While it needs to be something we need to remember, it’s absurd to suggest this Grand Slam win by Mauresmo be treated differently than any other before it.
She was playing stellar tennis in the Finals and Justine Henin-Hardenne wasn’t beating her even with a healthy stomach. By the way, my tummy would ache too if I got my ass handed to me the way she did in the first set. Amelie rolled through this tournament with relative ease. Her game never looked so complete. Some may ask whether she would have won her semifinal match against Kim Clijsters had that match continued. (Clijsters suffered a severe ankle injury and had to forfeit the match.) We’ll never know the answer to that question.
The bottom line is, she was playing well enough to win. She deserves this. After all the heartache over the past seven years, she deserves this. She’s been much maligned in the media for not being the dynamic superstar or having the charms of a Serena or Venus Williams or the star appeal of a Maria Sharapova. She’s 26 years old. She’s mature. She will value this victory more than any other that has come before it, and more than any that would follow.
Given her advanced age by tennis standards, we’re left wondering what Amelie Mauresmo’s career could have been had she won this tournament several years ago. But revisionist history will do little good now. We have to look ahead. Given her victory at the seasons first Grand Slam, we’re forced to examine the possibility of her winning the final three Slam events. Why not Amelie? She has one of the most complete games out there. The question to me has always been that of her mental game. This one breakthrough win in Melbourne could change all of that. The next time she’s in a tight spot in the French Open or at Wimbledon, she may persevere instead of wilting. There’s no way to tell how the win in Melbourne will ultimately impact her remaining years on the tour. She’s healthy and that seems to be the hardest thing to be on the tour these days. She has a good game on clay (she’s French, she better have a good game on clay.) A win at Roland Garros and suddenly she’s halfway there.
About 14 months ago, I wrote a column for Outsports talking about Amelie Mauresmo's disappointments. I said she shouldn’t have been ranked No. 1 at that time without having won a Grand Slam event. Some thought it was unfair to judge her primarily on her lack of Grand Slam titles. But that’s ultimately what the games greatest are remembered by. Look at Roger Federer. Seven Grand Slam titles at the age of 24. Halfway to Pete Sampras mark of 14. Nobody’s talking about all the Bulgarian opens he’s won. They talk about the Slams. That’s the measuring stick. It’s not about career earnings or total tournaments won; it’s about the Slams. Amelie has one now, and that’s something that can never be taken away.
My biggest gripe in all of this comes with the gay media They all have essentially forgotten about Amelie Mauresmo and all of the other out athletes in the sports world. We’re so preoccupied with the ones that aren’t coming out, that we forget about the ones who boldly take the step out of the safe confines of the sports closet.
I watched both gay TV Networks (LOGO and Q-Television), checked all the popular gay websites and saw little or no coverage on Mauresmo’s run through the seasons first Grand Slam. One news director said, “Call me on Monday if she wins.” That’s a telling quote, it shows how spoiled we’ve become by the few current and retired athletes that have come out of the closet. We fail to realize that there are many more who sit in hiding, waiting for a time when they feel it may be alright to reveal themselves.
Amelie Mauresmo came out at a time when it wasn’t the cool thing to do. She was even ridiculed by her opponent in the 1999 Australian Open finals for being too manly. Oh how quickly we forget. We’ve become so spoiled that the out athlete now has to win (or be arrested or something salacious) in order to be valued by the gay media as a story. In the coming days, I’ll be looking to interview Amelie Mauresmo on my radio program. I hope she accepts. Then I can apologize to her. I won’t apologize for what some may have misconstrued as unfair criticism. I’ll instead apologize on behalf of the gay media that has forgotten her and as a result, missed out on covering a big victory not only for Amelie, but for the gay community.
Jason Page hosted a daily overnight sports-talk show on Sirius Satellite Radio (Sirius Sports 123).