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Coming Out Party

Feb. 08, 1999
Feb. 08, 1999

Table of Contents
Feb. 8, 1999

Faces In The Crowd
Tennis
NBA Preview 1998-99

Coming Out Party

Martina Hingis won her third Australian Open, but it was the other women's finalist, openly gay Amelie Mauresmo, who stole the show with her breakthrough into the big time

The dress said it all. Martina Hingis had taken it to New York
last summer for the traditional U.S. Open champion's photo
shoot, but she left it packed when Lindsay Davenport beat her in
the final. That unworn dress symbolized a long year in which
Hingis became suddenly old at 17. Last Saturday she sat in the
backseat of a courtesy car as it weaved through the streets of
Melbourne en route to the beach for the Australian Open's photo
ceremony. "This is the best part of all, taking a picture with
the trophy, in a social dress," Hingis said, flipping her
freshly sprayed bob and smiling wickedly through layers of
makeup applied for the occasion. Abruptly she unzipped her suede
jacket, revealing the spectacular red minidress she hadn't worn
in September. "This is quite cute, I think," she said. "Don't
you?"

This is an article from the Feb. 8, 1999 issue Original Layout

Three and a half hours earlier, in Melbourne Park, Hingis had
beaten unseeded Amelie Mauresmo 6-2, 6-3 for her third
consecutive Australian title and her fifth victory in the last
nine Grand Slam championships. The match had been charged with
tension because Hingis (with an assist from Davenport) had
helped turn Mauresmo's powerful physique and openly gay
relationship into a tabloid firestorm that left the 19-year-old
Frenchwoman running from voracious television crews as if she
were a corporate embezzler nailed by Mike Wallace. The final was
also a showcase for Hingis's genius. Her ability to deftly mix
power, creativity and pluck had enabled her to win three Grand
Slam titles in 1997 but often deserted her last year, when she
won only the Australian. "I have my game back," Hingis said the
day before the final. "In fact, I have a different game. I'm a
better player. I have to be, because the tour is better."

Not just better, but more intriguing, with subplot upon subplot.
Pity the poor men's tour. On Sunday afternoon it trotted out
Thomas Enqvist and Yevgeny Kafelnikov for a final between good
players who are duller than oatmeal. (The 10th-seeded
Kafelnikov, the 1996 French Open champion, beat the unseeded
Enqvist in four sets to win his second Grand Slam trophy.) This
was after a fatigued Pete Sampras skipped the tournament to play
golf; the substitute top seed, Marcelo Rios, bailed out with a
bad back; and Andre Agassi--who had said after three airtight
wins, "I feel like a boa constrictor. I want to squeeze my
opponents until they stop breathing"--uncoiled in a lifeless
four-set, fourth-round loss to journeyman Vince Spadea.

Meanwhile, the women's draw offered its customary menu of
entertainment. Anna Kournikova's every match was attended by the
hormonal frenzy usually reserved for your finer strip clubs. At
no extra charge Kournikova threw in a double-fault crisis,
cranking out 31 in a single second-round match. ("I served 31
once," said men's quarterfinalist Todd Martin. "Of course, it
was over a six-week period.") Kournikova was bounced in the
fourth round by Mary Pierce. Venus Williams, who last January
predicted that she would be No. 1 in the world by the end of the
year, suffered a meltdown in her quarterfinal against Davenport
after being penalized a game point for twice shedding a handful
of her celebrated beads on the court. "I'm not causing a
disturbance here!" she screamed to the chair umpire, causing a
disturbance. The 18-year-old Williams, who lost the match 6-4,
6-0, is No. 5 in the world and holding, still awaiting her first
Grand Slam title.

Monica Seles gracefully carried the weight of another personal
loss--the death in December of her maternal grandmother--into
the semifinals, where she was dismantled by Hingis. To reach the
semis she had beaten a faded legend, Steffi Graf, whose 21 Grand
Slam titles, the last in 1996, seem more distant with each
passing tournament.

L'Affaire Mauresmo dragged the tour into more delicate--if not
altogether unfamiliar--territory. Mauresmo arrived in Melbourne
on a quiet roll, having improved her world ranking by 80 places,
from 109 to 29, in 1998. Her climb wasn't altogether unexpected.
The native of Bornel, a small town in northern France, had won
the '96 French Open and Wimbledon junior titles. Last May she
reached the final of the German Open, beating Davenport in
straight sets along the way, and late in the year she began
working with a new coach, Christophe Fournerie. In Melbourne she
saved two match points in her first-round victory over Corina
Morariu and then improved with each round.

The 5'9", 142-pound Mauresmo played her matches in tight shorts
and a tank top that exaggerated her build, which is athletic but
hardly ripped. She also came out of the closet. During the first
week of the tournament she introduced her companion, 31-year-old
Sylvie Bourdon, to the French media and said, "You can say she
is my girlfriend; you can write about her." Mauresmo met Bourdon
at a party on Nov. 5 in Saint-Tropez, where Bourdon's family
owns a popular nightspot called Le Gorille. "It was love at
first sight," says Bourdon, who sat in the players' box during
Mauresmo's matches and cheered animatedly. None of this caused
the slightest stir until Mauresmo's 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 semifinal
upset of Davenport, who came to Australia as the top-ranked
player in the world.

In a press conference following the match, Davenport said, "A
couple of times, I mean, I thought I was playing a guy out
there, the girl was hitting it so hard, so strong, and I would
look over there and she's so strong in the shoulders, those
shoulders." Even those comments might have gone largely
unnoticed had not Hingis, shortly afterward in an interview
conducted in German, said of Mauresmo, "She's half a man; she's
here with her girlfriend." With that, a cause celebre was born.
The Melbourne tabloid Herald Sun's approach was typical: two
pictures--one of Mauresmo on the court, from the rear, and one
of her and Bourdon nuzzling after the match--beneath the
headline OH MAN, SHE'S GOOD.

Davenport was appalled at the tempest her statements had helped
stir up. She wrote a note of apology that was delivered to
Mauresmo at the Melbourne Hyatt Hotel on the night before the
final. "Very gentle words, very sincere," said Mauresmo.

Hingis was less contrite. That same evening she sharply
criticized the open nature of Mauresmo's relationship with
Bourdon. "Everyone makes her own choices," Hingis said, "but you
don't have to show it in everything you do. They are hugging and
kissing each other all the time, and I'm just, 'O.K., there is a
limit.' Now I think Mauresmo got her lesson. She won't show
[affection] as much."

Hingis apologized to Mauresmo as the two players stood on Centre
Court awaiting the trophy presentation. "I hope you really mean
this," Mauresmo recalled saying in response, although she
doubted Hingis was sincere, and in fact Hingis wasn't. "I'm not
regretting anything I said about her," Hingis said during the
car ride to the photo shoot, "but I have to see [Mauresmo] for
many years, and I don't want to have to look into the wall every
time I see her coming."

What happened in Melbourne will test both Mauresmo and the
women's tour. The last prominent openly gay player was Martina
Navratilova. "Martina chose not to live in the closet, and there
were consequences in terms of endorsements and business," says
Pam Shriver, who won 20 Grand Slam doubles titles with
Navratilova. "That's unfortunate, but that's the way it is."

More than a year ago Mauresmo was warned by a former coach that
coming out would complicate her career. Before the Australian
Open former tour player Karine Quentrec Eagle, who's also
French, gave Mauresmo a similar warning. "I told her I didn't
think she should do this now, but she wanted to," Eagle says.
"She said she's happy and strong."

Last Saturday night Mauresmo briefly revisited her decision to
come out. "There were a few moments when I said, 'Maybe I should
have stayed private,'" she said. Then she remembered her life of
a year ago, when she was involved in a relationship with another
player and would grope for palatable lies whenever the subject
of boyfriends was broached by an interviewer. "I wasn't myself,"
Mauresmo said. "I don't want to hide Sylvie. I love her."

Indications are that Mauresmo's game will make her a factor on
the tour for some time. She's the rare woman player who hits a
one-handed backhand with topspin and power. She finished
Davenport with a crushing backhand down the line. "She's not
like most of the French; she's more resilient," says Arnaud
Boetsch, a Frenchman who has been ranked as high as No. 14 in
the world.

In the Melbourne final, however, Hingis was simply too much for
Mauresmo. Last year the physical and emotional effects of simply
growing up pulled Hingis back to a pack of players that she had
dominated in 1997. "It was a total mess," she said on Saturday.
"Your body changes"--hers became wider and softer, hampering her
coordination--"your head changes, it's hard to keep everything
under control. But you look around and you see people like
Jennifer Capriati and you realize that the train is moving very
fast, and if you get off for a little bit, you better get right
back on or it's going to be gone."

Hingis made Mauresmo look one-dimensional by hitting sharply
angled shots and by coming to the net 18 times. When Mauresmo
drove her back, Hingis scrambled spectacularly, proving that her
quickness has caught up with her body. In the final game
Mauresmo saved six match points before netting forehand volleys
on consecutive points. Too good, Martina. As the loser might
have said--but didn't--it was almost like playing a guy.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY SIMON BRUTY Power play Mauresmo's muscular strokes helped her beat three seeds, including No. 1 Davenport, en route to the title match.COLOR PHOTO: RON ANGLE Lady in red The victory dress Hingis couldn't wear in New York in September was just right for the Australian beach in January.

 

Mauresmo and her companion "are hugging and kissing all the
time," said Hingis, "and I'm just, 'O.K., there's a limit.'"