As the U.S. Open showed its support for LGBTQ inclusion for the third year running, the only two out gay players competing in singles were celebrating wins — and they will face each other next.
Greet Minnen and Daria Kasatkina both came through three-set encounters against American opponents to set up a third-round meeting on Saturday.
Minnen followed up her victory over Venus Williams by seeing off Sachia Vickery 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 under the lights on Court 17.
It’s the second time that the Belgian qualifier has made it through to the last 32 at Flushing Meadows — she has never been further at any Slam.
Kasatkina had an even tougher task to get past former world no 4 Sofia Kenin in Louis Armstrong Stadium. Kenin stormed into a one-set lead and was a break up in the second before her opponent found her rhythm and forced a deciding set.
The Russian, who was quoted earlier this week as saying that she would rather play under a rainbow flag than be designated as a neutral athlete, kept her nerve and eventually sealed a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 success.
Since coming out publicly last year, Kasatkina has been open about her relationship with Olympic figure skater Natalia Zabiiako and outspoken about her homeland’s “nightmare” war against Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Minnen recently called out violent homophobic abuse in a message she was sent online. The 26-year-old had also been vocal in her stand against anti-LGBTQ hate in a social media post shared on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
Together, let us stand against homophobia and transphobia, forging a world where everyone can thrive with dignity and acceptance. Human rights are not optional. They apply to all people, no matter who they are or whom they love. #stophomophobia #idaho pic.twitter.com/q6L6pd4GTD— Greet Minnen (@GreetMinnen97) May 17, 2023
Minnen and Kasatkina have only met once before in competition, with the Russian coming out on top in the Granby Championship first round in Aug. 2022 on her way to winning the tournament in Quebec.
Elsewhere at the U.S. Open on Thursday, the annual ‘Open Pride’ celebration was in full swing.
Pride Progress flags flew at the entrance to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and Arthur Ashe Stadium was lit up in rainbow.
In the afternoon, triathlete Chris Mosier and former US soccer international Joanna Lohman were among the guest speakers in a panel discussion titled ‘Equity Talk: Standing For Family, Love and Equality.’
LGBTQ cheerleading team Gotham Cheer were on site and strutting their stuff while on the courts, members of the ball crew were sporting rainbow wristbands.
Before men’s defending champion and top seed Carlos Alcaraz’s match against Lloyd Harris on Ashe, Brian Vahaly — the only publicly out gay ATP tennis player, former or current — was invited to perform the coin toss alongside his husband Bill and their twin boys, Parker and Bennett.
The moment was shared on the tournament’s official Twitter / X account.
One attendee who was particularly impressed by Open Pride was David Chen, who features in a short ‘TenniStory’ film about the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance (GLTA) produced by the Tennis Channel and released earlier on Thursday.
Chen has played on the GLTA circuit for over 25 years. He told the New York Times that the efforts made by the USTA were “amazing” and that minority communities such as those he represents “need to be brought to light”.
Sadly, at the same time, anti-LGBTQ comments were proliferating on Tennis Channel social posts that showed a picture of Chen — wearing a pink top and tutu in tribute to iconic Williams sisters outfits of yesteryear — and the posts were later deleted by an account manager.
That development served as a reminder of the challenges that remain around LGBTQ visibility in sports.
The match-up between Kasatkina and Minnen should also provide women’s tennis chiefs with further food for thought, as controversy continues to swirl around Saudi Arabia as a potential venue for the season-ending WTA Finals.
The tournament is due to begin on Oct. 30 but a location has still not been chosen. Riyadh is one of several cities in line to host, and a decision is expected to be announced by the WTA board towards the end of this Grand Slam fortnight.
Martina Navratilova is among the former pros to voice opposition to a Saudi selection. The winner of 59 major titles said last week that if she was still playing, she would not travel to play in the Gulf state, where women’s rights are severely limited due to male guardianship laws and LGBTQ people are subject to highly discriminatory laws and even the threat of the death penalty for same-sex sexual activity.
Hard to believe I am getting crap for saying I would not go play tennis in Saudi Arabia. From all kinds of angles. WTAF??? https://t.co/7Oux6vpwpT— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) August 25, 2023
When asked in July for her views on Saudi investment in women’s tennis, Kasatkina said: “Money talks in our world right now. For me, I don’t think that everything is about the money.”
For now, her focus will be on getting past Minnen in a contest that will have extra significance for LGBTQ tennis fans everywhere.