Tennis stars offered mix reactions when asked this weekend about the Australian Open’s muted celebration of calendar-year Grand Slam champion Margaret Court. While Tennis Australia plans to recognize the 50-year anniversary of Court’s Grand Slam win this week, the governing body has condemned her discriminatory remarks about LGBTQ people.
In a break with tradition, Court will not present the trophy to the woman’s champion. Roger Federer told reporters he’s sympathetic to the sensitivity of the issue, but doesn’t want to take sides.
“It’s a tricky one,” he told reporters, via the Washington Post. “I don’t know what to tell you. She’s obviously an incredible tennis champion, one of the most successful ever. I know this subject also tears apart a lot of opinions and minds. So I think Tennis Australia, they got to do what they got to do. I honestly really have no opinion on that.”
In 1970, Court became the the second woman ever, and first woman in the Open era of modern pro tennis, to sweep the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same calendar year. The tennis legend is the record-holding Grand Slam singles champion, winning all four tournaments a combined 24 times.
Over the years, Court, 77, has drawn ire for spouting anti-LGBTQ views. A Pentecostal Christian pastor, Court recently criticized transgender athletes and trans youth to her congregation in West Australia.
“And you know with that LGBT, they’ll wish they never put the T on the end of it because, particularly in women’s sports, they’re going to have so many problems,” she said from the pulpit. “You know, even that LGBT in the schools, it’s the devil, it’s not of God.”
In an open letter last month, the Australian Open explained its decision to honor Court’s accomplishments, while also stressing its message of inclusion.
“Naturally, we will be recognizing Margaret and her incredible tennis record, and contrary to many reports, there is no plan to rewrite history,’ the letter reads. “However, the philosophy and culture of our sport goes deeper than winning and setting records. We seek to foster a sport that is inclusive and welcoming of everyone. We all bear some responsibility for creating a safe and inclusive society.”
Johanna Konta, the Australian-born British tennis star, said she thinks Court’s social views should be looked at separately from her on-court accomplishments. “I think it’s unfortunate that this whole thing has even occurred,” she said, per the WaPo. “It does overshadow why her name is on the court. It’s not because of her beliefs, it’s because of her achievements in the sport. It’s unfortunate it’s kind of meshed together when they’re actually quite separate.”
Australian tennis pro Nick Kyrgois, meanwhile, said he will “try to block out” Court’s stance on LGBTQ issues, noting he is “obviously OK with same-sex marriage.”
Out tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King have not been as generous to Court in the past. Earlier this month, Navratilova lambasted Court’s most recent anti-trans comments.
“It’s outrageous and so wrong,” she wrote on Twitter. “We don’t need to change or re-write history when it comes to anyone’s accomplishments but we do not need to celebrate them. Margaret Court is hiding behind her Bible as many have done before her and will do after her. Let’s not keep elevating it.”
In 2017, after Court announced a boycott of Australia’s largest airline, Qantas, over its chief executive’s support for same-sex marriage, Navratilova penned an open letter urging Margaret Court Arena to change its name. In it, Navratilova called Court a “racist and homophobe.”
King echoes Navritalova’s sentiments, telling HBO’s “Real Sports” in 2018 she would refuse to play if the arena if she were still active.