Girlfriends and doubles partners: Podoroska and Naya say playing together is “very special”
SANTIAGO, Chile – Few people in tennis share the court with their life partner. Nadia Podoroska and Guillermina Naya enjoy that privilege. They have been girlfriends for more than two years, and doubles partners as of November 2023. Being a couple also on the court was something they had been looking forward to. “Playing together is something very special,” Podoroska said in an interview with CLAY.
They see each other only 12 weeks a year. And since that time is scarce, the Argentines do not separate from each other. Podoroska is ranked number one in Argentina and 78th in the world, so she is assured entry to most events on the WTA calendar. Naya is further back and has yet to enter the top 350: “Coinciding in more tournaments with Nadia motivates me to keep improving in the ranking”.
It was in conversation with CLAY in September 2022 during the US Open that Podoroska spoke publicly for the first time about her romantic relationship with Naya. Since 2021 she had spent several months injured and distraught without being able to compete. “I couldn’t watch tennis on TV because of how bad it made me feel,” she confessed. In that time of distress, Naya was extremely important. “I also took advantage of being in Argentina with the people I love. That affection and the positive energy of being at home helped a lot. Then I went back to Spain (her residence), because it seemed like it would be a short time before I could compete again. When I knew it would be longer, my mother and later my girlfriend were able to visit me”, she said at the time.
This Tuesday the Podoroska-Naya duo debuted with a win in their first professional doubles match. “I like being able to share the court with her, something we both do separately, to do it together is something special,” Podoroska commented after the 1-6, 6-3, 10-2 win over Fernanda Labraña and Julia Riera at the WTA 125 in Chile.
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With great humor, the tennis players spoke with CLAY about what it means to be partners in life and profession in the world of tennis. And why there are no publicly known homosexuals on the men’s tour, as there have been for 50 years on the women’s tour.
Interview with Podoroska and Naya
– A few hours ago you were playing the Billie Jean King Cup on fast courts in Slovakia, and now you have just played on clay, at the foot of the Andes Mountains. Mastering jet lag is a requirement to be a tennis player.
Nadia Podoroska (NP): We have no choice! I think this career helps you to adapt to conditions, to circumstances. We do it every week. Sometimes you move within Europe, which are short flights, and you don’t change surface… there are times like this, when you have to travel to the other part of the world to play on another surface. Since we planned the tour we have known it was going to be like that.
Guillermina Naya (GN): We are already on autopilot.
NP: If the clock says it’s eight o’clock, I have to have dinner anywhere, even if my body has a different schedule. I try to respect the schedules a lot because otherwise it is more difficult to adapt.
– You will have to wait another year to try to reach the Billie Jean King Cup finals.
GN: It was a very tough tie with closed matches. We as a team get along very well, there is a lot of respect and commitment, the captain and vice-captain do a tremendous job. It was not the result we wanted, but beyond that it was incredible.
– You got off the plane and played your first professional match together. How did you feel?
NP: Happy, because we had wanted to play together for a long time. We joked and imagined when it was going to be. Beyond the results, I like being able to share the court with her, something we both do separately, but being able to do it together is something special.
– (To Naya) And you, did you feel good too?
GN: Eeehm (laughs nervously). I must admit I was a little tense.
– Did it mean an extra pressure to play alongside your girlfriend?
GN: It was mostly because I wanted to do well. Not because it was with Nadia, but because I wanted to do well. It was the first time I played any WTA main draw. I was pretty tense at first, but then we sorted ourselves out and it went really well.
– Does the fact that you know each other so well off the court help the dynamic on the court?
NP: I don’t think so (laughs).
GN: (laugher) That didn’t happen!
NP: It can help because we can know when the other is nervous or what she might be thinking, but when it comes to making decisions, it’s also good to leave that aside because you have to focus on what you have to do, regardless of how you feel. She knows that I will do my best to win, and I know the same about her.
– What was the story when Nadia refused to play a doubles draw together?
GN: Did you see? she rejected my proposal and on top of that she won the tournament! The thing is that at that time we didn’t know each other that well, it was more of a hello and goodbye relationship…
NP: Anyway, in my defense…
GN: You have to let me finish talking! (laughs)!
NP: Well, finish it, finish it.
GN: I said, well, another Argentinean, we know each other by sight, I’m going to ask her to play doubles. She told me she was not going to play. Then I saw that she won the doubles and I said noooooo.
– Like a dagger in your heart….
GN: Hehe, no, not that way yet. I forgave her, although I still bother her. Well, now you can say your defense.
NP: It was a week that I wasn’t going to play doubles and I ended up playing because my coach asked me to play with a girl who was her friend, but it wasn’t because I didn’t want to play with Guille. The same thing happened this week. I wasn’t going to play, several players asked me, but then she enters the draw and I tell her that we should take this chance of playing together.
GN: Now I feel on the other side.
– Because of your rankings you don’t usually coincide in several events, but this week was different.
NP: Out of the 52 weeks of the year, we coincide in 12 weeks. It’s not like a couple that lives in the same city all year round, and then each one goes out with different group of friends and does things separately. When we are in the same place, we make all the plans together because is not much the time we have to share. In the WTA 125 there is a big gap in ranking between the players who play and that’s good for us.
– Not everyone in tennis is lucky enough to be able to work with their partner. It has to be an important emotional support in a sport as solitary as this one.
GN: For me it’s a plus, it motivates me to keep improving in the ranking and to be able to play more tournaments.
NP: Billie Jean is someone who is very aware of what’s going on in the tour. Obviously I liked it because she’s an icon of the sport, but it’s not that I was surprised because I know she does that and she’s right there with the news. Someone so famous and well-known who is such an advocate for rights… I liked it.
GN: I thought it was incredible to see her support. To have a message like that coming from such a figure is impressive.
Congratulations to WTA player @nadiapodoroska on her announcement.
Living authentically takes such courage, but it is always worth it. 🏳️🌈 https://t.co/kNlCitb2xH
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) October 6, 2022
– Nadia, in an interview you said: “The world is not as free as it should be”. Do you want to go deeper into that, and does it apply to the tennis world?
NP: That’s really deep, did I really say that?
GN: “I take it back!” (laughs).
NP: I think there is an ideal nowadays that we have to be open, to normalize homosexuals and bisexuals, but it’s still not that free. I feel that way, there are a lot of things that one still notices on a daily basis. That the rule is to be heterosexual. I don’t want to deny all the progress that has been made in terms of rights, but there is still a big gap. We talk about the Western countries, but there are a lot of other countries, other cultures where it is unthinkable… as for the world in general, we are light years ahead.
– Speaking of that, the most important tournament of the women’s circuit is almost played in a country where women and sexual minorities do not have the rights and freedoms they deserve. And for 2024 it’s a strong possibility that it will land in Saudi Arabia.
NP: It was very close and the issue will be in discussion next year. It seems to me that the WTA should listen to the players, to women in general. In my case I would not support the WTA Finals to be played in Saudi Arabia. It is good that there is a lot of money in that part of the world and this is a business too. The wheel has to turn, I understand that. And without money we don’t play either, it’s a bit difficult on that side, but for me there are limits.
– No elite male player has openly acknowledged his homosexuality, unlike women tennis players, who have done so since the 70s. You, Guillermina, said that “it’s the patriarchy’s fault”.
GN: I see it on a day-to-day basis. It is much more difficult for men because they are much more annoyed by other men. The one who doesn’t talk much, the one who is shy, people immediately say “He’s gay”. That way he will never accept himself, he will never want to get close to someone. It happens at a time like that, as I saw it, like everywhere. That’s why it’s much more difficult for them. It’s not the same for women, that’s why it’s “easier” to be able to share and accept it. In men it is much tougher.
– You reached the dream of playing together. How about playing against each other?
NP: (laughs) Well, I don’t know if it is a dream….
GN: Hopefully it doesn’t happpen! Well, if it happens, we already know that what happens on the court, stays on court.
NP: May it be in a final, if there is a dream it is to face each other in a final.
GN: And in the Buenos Aires tournament. Yes, let it be in the final of Buenos Aires.