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Mauresmo, Amélie (b. 1979)  
 
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Amélie Mauresmo is the first professional tennis player since Martina Navratilova to come out publicly as a lesbian, and one of the few elite athletes to come out while still competing. She has almost twenty tournament titles to her credit and has held the number one ranking of the Women's Tennis Association.

Amélie Mauresmo was born July 5, 1979 in St.-Germain-en-Laye, not far from Paris, but her family moved to a village in northern France while she was still a baby. She was first drawn to tennis during the 1983 French Open. While her parents watched the television broadcast of French tennis player Yannick Noah's victory over Mats Vilander, the four-year-old Mauresmo tried to mimic the moves of the French champion.

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Mauresmo has devoted her life to tennis. When she was only eleven she was proficient enough to attract the attention of the French tennis federation, which offered financial support so that she could attend a tennis school in the south of France. Two years later she moved on to the training center in Paris used by France's Olympic athletes. Mauresmo frequently suffered from homesickness and said in retrospect that if she had it to do over, she would not leave home at such a young age.

Throughout Mauresmo's teen years her tennis continued to improve. She won both the French and Wimbledon Junior championships in 1996.

Injuries, particularly back problems, an ongoing plague of Mauresmo's career, kept her out of action for much of 1997, but she rebounded the following year, playing well and reaching the final of the German Open. Her consistent play earned her a number 34 ranking from the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and an invitation from Yannick Noah to join the French Federation Cup team.

Although Mauresmo continued to play well and advanced to number 29 in the WTA rankings, she decided to sign on with a new coach, Isabelle Demongeot, who ran a training academy in St. Tropez.

Demongeot introduced Mauresmo to her friend Sylvie Bourdon, who was eager to meet the tennis star. Mauresmo and Bourdon soon fell in love, and Mauresmo left her parents' home to move in with her new partner.

The move exacerbated tensions between Mauresmo and her family, who were already aware of her lesbianism but not accepting of it. After Mauresmo went to live with Bourdon, with whom her parents and brother did not get along, the family ceased to speak to her.

Mauresmo came out publicly as a lesbian during the 1999 Australian Open, where she defeated top-ranked American Lindsay Davenport in the semi-finals and faced Swiss player Martina Hingis for the championship.

At a press conference after their match Davenport commented, "A couple of times . . . I thought I was playing a guy out there, the girl is hitting so hard, so strong." Her statement regarding Mauresmo's strength and prowess was made innocently and might have attracted little attention had not Hingis in an interview with the German-speaking press said insultingly of Mauresmo, "Sie ist ein halber Mann" ("She is a half man") because she had a girlfriend.

Davenport was deeply disturbed by the way her comment was interpreted in the press and wrote Mauresmo a heartfelt note of apology, which Mauresmo described as "very gentle words, very sincere."

Hingis, on the other hand, offered a pro forma apology on Centre Court after winning the tournament, but promptly informed reporters that "I'm not regretting anything I said about her."

Ironically, the Hingis is named after Martina Navratilova, widely regarded as the best woman tennis player of all time, who courageously affirmed her lesbianism although it undoubtedly cost her a fortune in commercial endorsements to do so.

Hingis's comments did have the salutary effect of focusing attention both on homophobia in the tennis world and on the active participation of lesbians in sports. Indeed, whereas in the past allegations of lesbianism have damaged tennis stars, in this case Hingis's comments had the effect of rallying support for Mauresmo.

A few weeks after the Australian Open, Mauresmo and Hingis met again in the Open Gaz de France tournament in Paris. French fans were vigorous in their support of Mauresmo and booed Hingis. Mauresmo won the match and went on to the final, where she lost in a third-set tie-breaker to American powerhouse Serena Williams.

Words of support and encouragement for Mauresmo poured in. She was particularly pleased to receive a lengthy message from Navratilova, whom she had not met.

Mauresmo's corporate sponsors, including Nike, stuck with her, and she continued to attract new fans. Among their number are many lesbians who have enthusiastically cheered her progress.

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A photograph of Amelie Mauresmo on the court created by Jimmy Harris in 2005.
  
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