(EXCLUSIVE) Why LGBTennis Is Much More Than A Pride Celebration - UBITENNIS
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(EXCLUSIVE) Why LGBTennis Is Much More Than A Pride Celebration

On the surface, tennis appears to be a frontrunner in the representation of gay athletes with the likes of Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. However, a closer look shows why a series of LGBT events set up by journalist Nick McCarvel are as important as ever.

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Billie Jean King talks to students from Ricards Lodge School and other invites. The Championships 2019. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day -3 Friday 28/06/2019. Credit: AELTC/Florian Eisele

It can’t be underestimated how much of an impact the world of tennis has had on the history of LGBT sports.

 

Some of the first openly gay athletes were tennis stars who went on to become pioneers of the game. WTA founder Billie Jean King was unfairly outed by a newspaper in 1981 before going on to become a leader in the world of equality. During that same year, Martina Navratilova spoke out about her sexuality for the first time by telling The New York Daily News she was bisexual. The two came out during a time where they risked losing sponsorship deals and that was before the devastating AIDS crisis began, which triggered widespread discrimination against the LGBT community.

In the coming years, there have been many top-level LGBT players on the WTA Tour. Including Amelie Maureasmo, Casey Dellacqua, Conchita Martinez and Alison Van Uytvanck. However, on the men’s side, it is a somewhat different picture. Bill Tilden, who won 10 Grand Slam titles throughout the 1920s, struggled with his sexuaility during a time where gay sex was illegal and not accepted by society. More recently, America’s Brian Vahaly was a former top 100 player during the early 2000s, but chose to come out after retiring from the sport. Clearly there is still much more that could be done.

Fortunately, tennis has its very own driving force helping bring the subject of LGBT issues into the limelight. Nick McCarvel is a renowned journalist who has worked at every Grand Slam in various positions ranging from writing reports to fronting online coverage for their official media channels.

 “Would I like there to have been someone like a Brian Vahaly, who came out after his playing career, to have had come out while he was still pro, or a current, active player who felt empowered enough to do so? Yes, sure. But I don’t feel any impact one way or another.” McCarvel told UbiTennis about growing up with there being no openly gay role model in tennis.
“I think as I got more comfortable with who I am and in my standing as a tennis journalist, I felt driven to get the conversation going perhaps because of a lack of such an out male player.”

LGBTennis

August 22, 2019 – (L-R) Adam Rippon, Brian Vahaly, Greet Minnen, Alison Van Uytvanck, Jason Collins, Billie Jean King, Billy Bean and Nick McCarvel during the US Open Pride Panel at the 2019 US Open. (Photo by Mike Lawrence/USTA)

McCarvel has more than got the ball rolling. A couple years ago, he launched the LBGTennis events where individuals can discuss topics related to the gay community.  The first coincided with the US Open and was held at the Housing Works Bookstore in New York’s SoHo area. Named ‘Open Playbook: Being Queer and Out in Pro Tennis’ he was joined by Vahaly and Dellacqua on the panel,

“In the spring of 2018 I had been thinking about doing something that brought the tennis and queer spaces together, and I finally felt like the time was right to act. I didn’t have any outstanding goal other than to prompt a discussion within the sport that I, a gay journalist, didn’t really see as lively,” he commented about what triggered him create the events.

Since the birth of its inaugural night, the concept of McCarvel’s idea has gone on to take place during Wimbledon and the Australian Open, too, with more top names joining his panels. However, there is, in a sense, a fine balance to organising these evenings.

“I’ve had a rather warm response from the players, but it’s been pretty quiet. We haven’t necessarily encouraged or pushed them to take part. Instead engaging a variety of facets within pro tennis and the recreational game,” McCarvel explains about promoting his concept.
“Two-time major finalist Kevin Anderson attended one of our events ( Australian Open 2019) and was a huge support, and players like Nicole Gibbs have voiced their support online. Former players Billie Jean King, Brian Vahaly, Casey Dellacqua, James Blake and Rennae Stubbs have been speakers at one point or another and current players Alison Van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen were a part of #LGBTennis at the US Open last year.”

To save the prospect of repetition, each of the five events held so far have had a different dynamic whilst raising money for charity. Some of the organisations that have benefited include:  Housing Works and New York Junior Tennis & Learning in USA, Stand Up Events in Australia and Pride Sports in the UK.

McCarvel, undoubtedly, has a lot to be proud about when it comes to the events he has helped organise and run. But what has his standout achievement been so far?

“Having the AELTC invite us onto the grounds of Wimbledon for our event there last summer was amazing; and Billie Jean King was our speaker that day,” he said.
“And having 400+ people attend our event at the USTA National Tennis Center last year on the eve of the US Open was pretty cool, too!”

Everybody has a part

Critics could argue why events like these are needed in 2020. A 2015 worldwide study called ‘Out In The Fields’ found that 8 out of 10 gay men and women have experienced verbal homophobia in sport. To put this into context, a total of 9494 people were surveyed. The report also found that almost half (49%) of gay men and one in four (24%) lesbians under the age of 22 feared that they would be bullied if they came out in team sports.

These findings can only be partly applied to tennis as it is an individual sport but it does highlight the fear some have about coming out, especially on the men’s Tour, which has more than 1000 players with an ATP ranking and none of them are openly gay or bisexual. Ironically, back in 2010, tennis was voted the most gay-friendly sport in a poll ran by British organisation, Stonewall.

“There are so many layers. I think the individuality of the sport and — at times — the loneliness can be impactful in a negative way. The sport can only help to break down these barriers by meeting itself where it’s at and being willing to do the work in making things change,” McCarvel said.
“It’s similar to what we’re seeing — though on a much bigger scale — happen with the Black Lives Matter movement around the world. We need to be open with dialogue, ideas, differences, different people… and tennis has that need to do so with the LGBTQ+ community so it can continue to grow and evolve.”

McCarvel’s commitment to the cause is to be praised but change can’t be created by just one person. It could be argued why the campaign hasn’t attracted more investment or interest from any of tennis’ seven governing bodies over the years. Although that is slowly changing with the US Open hosting its first ever ‘Open Pride’ night last year.

“I think they are getting there. I’ve brought to their attention these issues and I think it’s on their radar. For the #LGBTennis events/evenings, I’ve worked with Tennis Australia (TA), the USTA, the All England Club, the WTA and — to a lesser degree, the ATP, ITA, Tennis Canada and LTA,” he said.
“Where is their player education series? How are they making tennis as inclusive for every recreational player out there no matter where they come from or who they are? TA has done a great job with the latter, but am I frustrated? No. I just want to see progress.”

Then there is also the power of support from straight-allies in the sport, especially among active players. It isn’t very often that gay-related questions are asked to the likes of Roger Federer and Co, but when they have, there has always been a positive response. 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer told The Body Serve in 2018 ‘It doesn’t matter where you came from, who you are, I’m all for it that you’re open about it (being gay).’ Later that same year Novak Djokovic says during the ATP Tour Finals: “It’s everybody’s right to have sexual orientation as they desire, any kind of direction in life they desire. I respect it.”

“When Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were asked about the issue in the press in the summer of 2018 it made international headlines when they spoke out on the issue. I know not a lot of LGBTQ+ activists feel as though we need to rely on or promote allies, but in sports, I think they’re big because of how heternormative the culture is.”

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is that tennis, in some ways, has been a leader when it comes to representation of LGBT people in sport but at the same time still has a lot of work to do in many other ways. It is for this reason why McCarvel’s LGBTennis events have been inspirational.

I have no idea if there are any gay professional tennis players currently on the ATP Tour or if they will come out soon. The only hope is they can seek some sort of comfort from what McCarvel is doing as he issues his own coming out advice.

“There is some conservative thinking in the sport – and that’s fine – but the more you can be your authentic self on the court, in the locker room, in the press room, in the hallways of the Grand Slam arenas around the world – that is all very, abundantly important. And support one another! Tennis is wonderfully gay. This sport touches the queer community like no other! Let’s highlight that. Let’s embrace it and do our (small little) part,” he concluded.

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EXCLUSIVE: Felix Auger-Aliassime Previews Musetti Semi-Final, Aims For ATP Finals Spot

Felix Auger-Aliassime spoke to UbiTennis about his semi-final in Florence with Lorenzo Musetti.

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Felix Auger-Aliassime (@AlemTenis - Twitter)

UbiTennis director Ubaldo Scanagatta spoke with Felix Auger-Aliassime after his 6-3 6-4 quarter-final victory over Brandon Nakashima in Florence.

 

The Canadian is into the last four at the ATP 250 event in Florence after defeating Brandon Nakashima in a routine straight sets victory in Italy.

Despite being broken in the opening game, Auger-Aliassime remained calm and collected as he secured victory in 90 minutes.

Next for Auger-Aliassime is Lorenzo Musetti who he has lost to twice with one of those meetings happening in Monte-Carlo this year.

In an exclusive interview with UbiTennis director Ubaldo Scanagatta, Auger-Aliassime spoke about why the match-up has been tough for him in the past and whether their meetings on clay will impact this match.

The world number 13 also spoke about aiming to reach the ATP Finals in Turin and how much it would mean to him be a part of the elite eight at the end of the year.

Scanagatta: Here we are with Felix Auger-Aliassime who won quite easily against Nakashima, Am I wrong if I say quite easily or easier?

Auger-Aliassime: Easier. It’s always relative to your level and the perspective you want to look at it because the score. I got broken first came and come back well, it’s always tough to come back from a break down but I did well to bounce back from the first game and then I played a great set of tennis in the first set, a really good level. Then again starting the second set very good, so then holding serve until the end. So it was a great match and a great performance but I had to play my best tennis in order to win like this.

Scanagatta: Listen, can I give you good news? Tonight you are eighth in the race, 20 points more than Fritz because Fritz 2,885 and you went to 2,905.

Auger-Aliassime: You know they have it on the internet?

Scanagatta: Yes but they had to take away 45, not everybody knows that you have already completed, you are only 20 points ahead, sometimes UbiTennis is better. Apart from that you have to play Musetti and against Musetti you are down 2-1, you won Barcelona, where he had to retire but was up one set and then the other two was always played on clay. Is this better for you? Because today Musetti said I like very much this surface and I have more time and so on.

Auger-Aliassime: Look, he’s been playing very well.

Scanagatta: Have you seen him today?

Auger-Aliassime: I watched a little bit of the match today. Seemed like he was playing very good. He was hitting the ball very well, aggressive and precise. He’s a good player and he’s one of the top young players. You know I lost twice to him so of course it proves the quality that he has not only against me but he beat a lot of good players so I have to be ready for a tough match. I think potentially it can be the toughest match that maybe I have to play this week. So I have to be ready for that.

Scanagatta: He is going to have his best ranking next Monday, he will be 24 and only 23 if he would win the tournament, 24 already for being in the semi-final. What do you remember of those matches when you played him? What you recall?

Auger-Aliassime: Well he has a great touch as we all know, especially on clay he was very precise and a great touch mixing it well, the backhand. We had a close match in Lyon, I don’t remember Lyon very well but I remember the first time and of course this year in Monte-Carlo where he played really good and I wasn’t serving well and being as aggressive as I am today. But he was playing really well, backhand cross and down the line, forehand was very aggressive so he is a good player and a complete player so that’s all I can say.

Scanagatta: How important is it for you to make the Finals, the ATP Finals in Turin? Which would give you another chance to come back to Italy and eat some pasta…

Auger-Aliassime: Yeah that’s why I want to do it. That’s why it’s important because it’s in Turin and it would be great of course. You know like I said earlier this week, I love to play in Italy and not only it’s in Italy but it’s one of the best tournaments in the year. It would be a privilege to be in that group of eight players. Of course my position now, like everybody on your sheet, we’re fighting hard to make it but the competition is tough so I mean it starts at the start of the year so at the end of the day it’s not like, all the results I had throughout the year some wins, some losses it has an impact now. Of course now I’m still in a good position, so I will try to push through the last tournaments of the year and to qualify will be great.

Scanagatta: OK last question, Why you always wear black, these days I always see you wear black. Does Adidas asking is it because you like to play at night because it’s more elegant or you choose one or the other?

Auger-Aliassime: No I have a collection from New York and I change the collection there. I have black and I have purple and I thought I like the black with colourful shoes so I’m interested in my style, so it needs to work. The collection that I have I have for the rest of the year, I like it that way with colourful shoes and very neutral colours.

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EXCLUSIVE: Felix Auger-Aliassime Eyes Improvement In Florence, Opens Up About Friendship With Berrettini

Canada’s top player sheds some light on his current game during an exclusive interview with Ubaldo Scanagatta.

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Felix Auger-Aliassime - (Ben Solomon/Kosmos)

Top seed Felix Auger-Aliassime kicked off his bid for a second Tour title at the UniCredit Firenze Open on Thursday with a roller-coaster win. 

 

The Canadian world No.12 outlasted Germany’s Oscar Otte 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-2, in a match that lasted two-and-a-half hours. Auger-Aliassime’s triumph moves him into his 13th Tour-level quarter-final of 2022 and improves his win-loss record to 41-24. 

This season has seen Auger-Aliassime achieve new milestones in his career, including winning his first Tour title at the Rotterdam Open, reaching a ranking-high of No.8 in August and defeating a top three player for the first time (No.3 Alexander Zverev at the ATP Cup). 

Following his latest win in Florence, the 22-year-old spoke exclusively to Ubitennis. Giving a frank assessment of his current form and his chances of winning a second Tour trophy this week in Italy. 

Ubaldo Scanagatta: You won what was a very difficult match in three sets. I expected you to win in two, what about you?

Auger-Aliassime: You never know before the match. When the match was underway I won the first set 6-4 and then I was playing great in the second, I had an early break. I was serving good. 

So I didn’t play so bad but he played some good points. I got a bit tight. Then the tiebreak was terrible for me. That was very difficult to accept but after it was good to come back and finish the match in a good way. 

Ubaldo Scanagatta: It was quite strange to see you lose two serves in a row (in the second set) and then you were serving a lot towards his backhand sometimes which was a surprise because he plays much better with his backhand than the forehand. Was that a tactical approach?

Auger-Aliassime: It depends. I was serving more to the forehand with my first serve and then I tried to mix it up with my second serve. Sometimes when you’re on the court you have to make a decision and you don’t know how your opponent is going to react. 

I think in the third set, in the games I was directing more towards his forehand side, making him move there and getting some short balls. After that, I was playing better tactically. 

Ubaldo Scanagatta: You will next play Nakashima who is a player making great progress on the Tour. This year he has made a lot of improvements. Have you ever played him before?

Auger-Aliassime: I’ve never played him. We have only practiced together but he is a great player who has improved a lot. He’s consistent and very precise. He has a good serve and a good return. He has a complete game for a young player who I think will improve more and become a top player to play against. 

Ubaldo Scanagatta: Your best ranking was No.8 and you have won one tournament in Rotterdam. Also, you have lost quite a few finals but how do you find this surface in Florence? How do you rate your chances of winning? 

Auger-Aliassime: It’s always a good challenge. Today (Thursday) I played three sets but I know I have to play better in order to win the tournament. I have to take it match-by-match. 

It’s a good challenge because it is where I want to be as a player. I want to be at the top, fighting for this spot (the title). To be at the top of the draw and try to win. It starts at these tournaments, I have to be able to step up to the challenge. 

It’s also a good opportunity for me to try and prove myself, and become a better player. 

Ubaldo Scanagatta: Matteo Berrettini said that you are his best friend on the Tour. Do you still see him as much as before as he was dating somebody that you may know….? (tennis player Ajla Tomljanovic who is also cousins with Aliassime’s girlfriend Nina Ghaibi). 

Auger-Aliassime: He’s a good guy and I get along well with him. We have played a few doubles in the past years but now it is a bit less as he plays more with his brother. 

We also practice together and train in Monaco.

Ubaldo Scanagatta: Were you surprised that Matteo lost in Florence? He was complaining a bit about the slow surface. 

Auger-Aliassime: We practiced together (in Florence earlier this week), and it was a good set – 7-6 like every time we play. He won it, I had a set point but I lost. Of course, I was surprised, I think he had opportunities in the second set. So it’s tough. I saw him at breakfast, it is tough to lose when you’re at home. Everybody has come to see you. 

I know how he feels. I played in Montreal this year, had a tough loss and it is never easy to go out like this. But there are still a few tournaments this year and hopefully, he can bounce back. 

Ubaldo Scanagatta: Finally, what is your general impression about playing in Italy?

Auger-Aliassime: I used to come here when I was under 12. I remember going to Trieste, they had this tournament in Porto San Giorgio. I also played here many times in Challengers. It’s a country that loves tennis. As a player, you come here and on the first day of practice, everybody is there (to watch you). In the city, people say hello and wish you good luck, so it’s really lovely when you’re playing in Rome. Hopefully, if I play in Turn (at the ATP Finals) it will be the same or maybe even better. 

It is really nice that they (the ATP) were able to organize a tournament here (in Florence) and I love everything about it. I felt good from the moment I came, the city is great and the people have given me amazing support. 

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EXCLUSIVE: Mackenzie McDonald Reveals Minor Italian Connection After Reaching Florence Quarter-Finals

In an exclusive interview with UbiTennis, Mackenzie McDonald reveals his love for Italian culture.

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Mackenzie McDonald (@thenet_m - Twitter)

Mackenzie McDonald revealed his love for Italian culture in an exclusive interview after beating Francesca Passaro 6-4 7-5 to reach the Florence quarter-finals.

 

The American beat the Italian wildcard in straight sets to seal his place in the Florence quarter-finals where he will face another Italian in the form of third seed Lorenzo Musetti.

McDonald has suffered a number of injuries but has returned to the tour in fine fashion and is now a consistent top 100 player.

In an exclusive interview with UbiTennis director Ubaldo Scanagatta, McDonald revealed what it’s like to face an Italian player in Italy and why he loves the European country so much.

Scanagatta: First of all Congratulations, secondly tell us something about this match and you had to play an Italian and do you remember other matches played against Italians in Italy where you had all the crowd against you?

McDonald: I haven’t played in Italy a lot. Besides Challengers, I think this is my first ATP, well besides Rome, playing an Italian in Italy is definitely a tough feat and the crowd’s all for him, it was pretty difficult to deal with that but I think the next match too against maybe Musetti? It will be even crazier so we’ll see what happens.

Scanagatta: But the linesman and everything was fine, you didn’t have any problem with the umpiring and nothing else? Because 20-30 years ago, it was much more difficult to beat an Italian in Italy and what happened in Rome? Who did you play with? Do you remember?

McDonald: I think I lost to Sousa, the Portuguese player.

Scanagatta: How do you find this court and can you tell me if you saw anything of Florence, I mean is it the first time for you in your life? Do you have any impression about the city?

McDonald: Yeah, I mean I went out the other night, the first night I got in, which was nice went to downtown and walked along the river, across the bridge to the church and the cathedral in the middle. So I got to see the main basic things in Florence, there’s definitely more things I want to see. My sister actually spent a lot of time in Italy, it’s one of her favourite countries, she actually named her son Rome. So there’s definitely more I want to see and I’m going to Naples next week too so I’m enjoying the food and I’m going to be in Italy for at least another week so it will be fun.

Scanagatta: What about the next round? Say something about the two players you may have to play?

McDonald: I haven’t played either one. So not too sure what to expect I mean their both very good players, both in form. I mean everyone wants to do well here in the quarters, so it will be a tough match for sure. I think I’m just going to enjoy this one today and then I’ll focus on that one maybe later tonight or tomorrow but definitely will be a challenge tomorrow.

Scanagatta: There were five Americans here in this tournament, you were one of the five, quite a lot for a tournament in Italy. What do you expect about United States playing Italy in Davis Cup even if maybe you will not be in the team but Fritz and Tiafoe are playing very very well, how do you explain the comeback of the American Tennis after few years which were so-so?

McDonald: I think we got a lot of depth right now. We have a lot of guys in the top 200, just like you guys, and a lot of guys in the top 100. All different types of players too, we’re all competing and pushing each other at the top too. We’ve got Fritz who is top ten now, one of my best friends. We have a lot of talent so I think we have a good chance against Italy, it will be an exciting match for sure.

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