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Why are there no known gay tennis players on the ATP? “Maybe there are, but they are afraid, this is a macho sport”.

Tenistas gays
Los tenistas franceses Fabien Reboul y Maxence Brovillé / @fabienreboul
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PARIS – There is one thing that separates the WTA from the ATP, one aspect in which they are very different: on the women’s tennis tour there are players who are openly lesbian. In the men’s tennis tour, no player has come out as gay in recent years. Why?

“Because tennis is a very masculine sport, very macho,” says Peruvian Juan Pablo Varillas in an interview with CLAY. “Maybe there is still a bit of fear, there is that fear. Maybe there are players who are afraid, they live repressed, and it’s terrible for a person to live like that,” added the world number 61.

Fear? Varillas’ statement brings back memories of CLAY’s interview with Taylor Fritz, in which the American addressed a topic that is virtually never talked about in men’s tennis.

“I’m not sure if there are gay tennis players in the top 100. I don’t know. Maybe people think that behind closed doors we know. Statistically speaking, there should be. Statistically. But not that I know of. I think it’s strange, because I feel like a player would be accepted.”

Taylor Fritz, after CLAY’s interview / SEBASTIÁN VARELA NAHMÍAS

Yes, would he be accepted? The world number eight has no doubts: “Myself and my friends, other players on the tour wouldn’t have a problem with it, it would be totally normal and I think people would accept it. It would be big news and maybe people don’t want the limelight, maybe they don’t want the distraction of being in the limelight.”

Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien sees things similarly to Fritz: “I respect everyone’s decision. Why are there no gay players? I don’t know for sure. Maybe there are, we don’t know and maybe we will never know. As there are none, it is perhaps difficult for them to say so. Now I think a French doubles player said it. What I saw is that he was opening up, but I don’t know. I respect everyone’s decision.”

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So do you think there are gay players in men’s tennis who just prefer not to say it? “Maybe yes, I don’t say so,” Dellien cautiously answers CLAY.

Players like Billie Jean KIng and Martina Navratilova normalised same-sex love in the WTA in the 1970s and 1980s, something that continues to this day in women’s tennis.

This is not the case in the ATP, which is a long way from having had players of this calibre come out as gay: the last player to come out as gay was the American Brian Vahaly, who reached 63 in the world ranking in 2003, but came out of the closet after retiring.

In December 2022, French doubles players Fabien Reboul and Maxence Brovillé posted a photo on their social networks showing them kissing and declaring their love for each other. No one was able to verify whether this was a sincere declaration or an inside joke between friends.

Fabien Reboul and Maxence Brovillé / @fabienreboul

Argentinian Nadia Podoroska, who in an interview with CLAY in 2022 talked about her relationship with a woman, said in Berlin that what happens on the men’s tour is “strange” to her.

“The truth is, I don’t know what the atmosphere is like behind closed doors in the men’s locker room,” the Argentinian told CLAY. “If I’m honest, I find it strange that no one has said it publicly, but I also respect one hundred percent that someone keeps their privacy and has no obligation or need to say it, to communicate it.”

So Varillas’s theory – fear – holds true: Is the same thing happening in men’s tennis as in men’s football, where there are virtually no known cases of players coming out as homosexuals?

“Of course, of course! Exactly like that,” Varillas tells CLAY. “In men’s sport in general. Tennis is a very masculine sport, very macho. And that’s over, it’s very old. I think that when there start to be cases, people will take courage, they will open up, they will see that there is no problem and it will be normalised”.

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Juan Pablo Varillas
Juan Pablo Varillas, after CLAY’s interview / SEBASTIÁN FEST

 

June is LGTBIQ+ Pride month in much of the world. This year, for the first time in its history, Roland Garros celebrated its “pride day”. The reason? The tenth anniversary of same-sex marriage in France and the first gay wedding held in Paris on 7 June 2013.

Gilles Moreton, President of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), explained the reasons for the celebration: “We are proud to have organised this celebration, which is perfectly in line with the values of diversity and inclusion that the FFT stands for. We are fully committed to continue to organise such activities.

Roland Garros celebrated Pride Day for the very first time in 2023.

It seems reasonable to think, however, that men’s tennis needs much more than such activities.

Why are there no known gay tennis players on the ATP?

Chile’s Nicolas Jarry, ranked 28th in the world, tells CLAY that there would be “no problem” on his part if a fellow player on the tour came out as gay. And he believes there wouldn’t be in general.

So why doesn’t it happen, and is it because tennis is a “macho sport”, as Varillas puts it?

“I don’t know. I don’t think it hasn’t happened any more. Just because… I have no idea. It hasn’t happened, it hasn’t happened. I have no idea.”

The Chilean’s response is very similar to that of Croatian Borna Coric, world number 14 in tennis: “I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” he tells CLAY.

If no one has a problem, why then doesn’t it happen?

“I don’t know. To be honest, I hadn’t thought about it. Maybe there aren’t any gays, maybe there are, but they don’t want to come out.”

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