The Tennis world will ‘recognise’ the living legend of Margaret Court at this year’s Australian Open. The now senior minister at Victory Life Centre in Perth, Australia won 64 singles and doubles grand slam titles in her playing career.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the year she won all four major titles in a calendar year.
Tennis Australia says it will “recognise” rather than celebrate the 64 singles grand slam titles holder because of her “divisive” nature.
Court was from Catholic roots but later became Pentecostal working as a minister and later starting her own ministry. She has often openly spoken against same-sex marriage that was legalized in Australia in 2017.
Court’s 192 career singles title is a women’s record while her 24 grand slam titles is an all-time record.
50 years ago, Court dominated the tennis calendar year winning 21 of 24 titles and 104 of 110 matches. She also took all four major titles.
“She was a great athlete and an all-court player,” says former French Open and Australian Open champion Nancy Richey, who reached the doubles final with Court at Roland Garros in 1969
“She was as good on the baseline as she was at the net, which is a rarity. She had good groundstrokes, a good forehand, a good backhand – she was just tough.
“Most of the players were about my height – 5ft 6in or 5ft 7in – but she was about 5ft 10in or so. There were so few that had a lot of height, she was very imposing.
“She was the first one really to lift weights and she had really built up her right shoulder and arm. She had long arms, in fact her nickname was ‘Arms’. She went about it almost like they do today as far as lifting weights and that kind of thing.”
One more grand slam title for Serena Williams and she will equal Court’s grand slam record. Winning this year’s Australian Open could do it for her.
The 38-year-old American has been stuck on 23 since 2017 and has lost in the final on three occasions when she could have achieved the milestone.
This milestone is “why she came back to playing tennis after having a baby and so many medical complications”, Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou said before last year’s Wimbledon final, which she lost to Simona Halep.
After gay marriage was legalized in 2017 court did little to hide her disapproval.
“I believe in marriage as a union between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible,” she wrote. “Your statement leaves me no option but to use other airlines where possible for my extensive travelling.”
That same year she also said tennis was “full of lesbians”, while she has also spoken against transgender athletes and branded the teaching of LGBT rights as “of the devil”.
In describing her historic feat the Tennis Hall of Fame writes:
“There was no triumphant tossing of the racquet or leaping the net or falling on the court in disbelief. Court methodically and calmly walked to the net and shook Casals’ hand.
“She retreated to her seat courtside $7,500 richer – which was the biggest monetary prize in women’s tennis at the time – and had become a calendar year Grand Slam champion, fulfilling a dream long in the making. Court was calm, cool and composed.”
Court found public speaking a daunting task a sharp contrast from the Rev Margaret Court as a writer describes her speech in addressing the Wimbledon winner’s ball of 1966;
“She was petrified of doing any public speaking and she broke out in big red blotches on her chest and back,” Richey says. “She got through and did it but it was not what she was comfortable doing.”
18-time Grand Slam singles champion Martina Navratilova has labelled Court “pathetic” and added that it was “amazing how strong her homophobia truly is”.
She added: “It’s outrageous and so wrong. We don’t need to change or rewrite 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.”
Australian Rennae Stubbs describes Court and her views as “ignorant and dangerous”. LGBT rights group Stonewall says it is “sad” that she continues to voice “offensive and prejudiced” views.
“Sportspeople are considered role models to many and so anti-LGBT comments can have a hugely negative impact, particularly on younger lesbian, gay, bi and trans people,” Stonewall’s director of sport Robbie de Santos says.
“They make clear that LGBT people are unwelcome and so they feel they have to either hide who they are, or not take part in sport.
“Court’s remarks also show us how faith is often used to justify anti-LGBT views and attitudes. This is wrong and perpetuates a myth that faith and LGBT inclusion cannot coexist.
“Faith is a big part of many LGBT people’s lives, and acceptance as part of a faith community can be incredibly powerful.”
Nancy Richey who won the Australian Open in 1967 and the French Open in 1968 but lost two U.S open finals to Court said she had written to the Tennis Australia not to rename Melbourne Park from her name because of her LGBT views stating that the stadium renamed after her for her achievement in sport, not her lifestyle opinions;
“It is so wrong, they put her name on there because of her great tennis career – and end of story,” she says now.
“I believe, like she does, [that] marriage is between a man and a woman, that the lesbian thing is against what the Bible says it should be.
“Where she and I both come from is that that’s a sin and we love the sinner. That’s no different than sex before marriage, sex outside marriage – sin is a sin in God’s eyes.
“I feel like her words have been twisted on occasion and what I’m telling you is the way we both think on the thing and I guess where I know I come from is you can’t say anything about what we believe without having all hell break loose.
“We can’t say how we feel about it, our belief about it – that to me is wrong, I should be allowed to voice my opinion and the way I see it and the way I believe and that’s where she is coming from.”
After Tennis Australia’s press release detailing its definition of the distinction between recognising an athlete and celebrating one, her four children released a statement that read in part;
“It is hard for her family to understand how her current lifestyle would possibly affect her tennis career in any way.
“It is disappointing to see Tennis Australia in the open letter amalgamating her sporting career which she won for the nation.”