Can Somebody Find the Balls?

ball Roddick_gd_10

The approach of Wimbledon in June always awakens my latent interest in tennis, which was formed during my childhood in the suburbs outside Chicago. The late 70's were a boom time for tennis (remember Borg/McEnroe in 1980?) and my family belonged to the local tennis club. This meant, lessons, lessons, and more lessons. I still play a decent game, with a little practice.

But what it also meant, for a ten-year-old kid about to break into the glory of adolescence, was a first encounter with the semi-primeval wonders of the men's locker room. There are certain visceral memories that come from that period for me: a hard cement floor under a thin coating of green felt, a slamming of steel lockers and their combo locks that slickly spun in their doors, a fragrant scent of talc and deodorant, steam wafting from the showers, a lone jockstrap or pair of white shorts left tossed on a wooden bench beside some stinking shoes, and fleeting (and not so fleeting) glimpses of my friends' fathers and the local high school boys as they went to and from the showers (is it getting hot in here?).

The tennis club was always a very straight place. Not that I was by any means ready to accept being gay at that age, but the aura of the place was distinctly heterosexual, and tennis too, even today. There's not a single out professional on the tour, so the atmosphere is ripe for rumor and speculation.

If we go by the law of percentages, one or more of these top eleven seeds at Wimbledon 2004 is a friend of Martina's. I've provided some pop-up images (shirtless of course) for illustration purposes. Just click on the names.

1. Roger Federer, Switzerland
2. Andy Roddick, United States
3. Guillermo Coria, Argentina
4. David Nalbandian, Argentina
5. Tim Henman, Britain
6. Juan Carlos Ferrero, Spain
7. Lleyton Hewitt, Australia
8. Rainer Schuettler, Germany
9. Carlos Moya, Spain
10. Sebastien Grosjean, France
11. Mark Philippoussis, Australia

So what has historically been gay about men's tennis?

Well, Bill Tilden for one. He practically invented the modern game of tennis in the early half of the 20th century. Here's a brief but absorbing article about him by Patricia Nell Warren. Unfortunately for Tilden (and for gays) he served time twice for being sexually involved with minors. His tennis was so legendary, however, that even that didn't stop him from being named later into the Sports Hall of Fame.

Tilden's sad emotional life and its end, alone at 60 with not $100 to his name, is not something to be envied, but he did pioneer the modern game of tennis. Warren writes, "All this time, many in the tennis world had known that Tilden was gay.  They may have believed the conventional wisdom that all gay men were effete powderpuffs who couldn’t cut it in sports -- but they had to sit there and watch Big Bill go into macho overdrive and beat the shorts off every man who ever faced him across the net. Now and then, to tweak everybody, Tilden would drop the macho stuff and swish just a little. Or he would make provocative comments like:  'Tennis is more than just a sport. It's an art, like the ballet. Or like a performance in the theater. When I step on the court I feel like Anna Pavlova. Or like Adelina Patti. Or even like Sarah Bernhardt. I see the footlights in front of me. I hear the whisperings of the audience. I feel an icy shudder. Win or die! Now or never! It's the crisis of my life.'  Macho fans winced.  Baseball great Ty Cobb openly called him a fruit.

Now wouldn't that spice Wimbledon up a little?

So who's gay and who isn't? Roddick, Henman, Agassi, Philippoussis? The net is rife with rumors. Feel free to express your thoughts in the comments.

If a pro male tennis player were to come out today, it would certainly generate a tremendous amount of renewed interest in a sport whose fanbase has sagged in recent years. And why the hesitation? It's an individual sport. The arguments of how it might affect the team don't hold up here. And the threat of losing a sponsorship is tentative at best as gays become more common in popular culture and more visible in society — as long as the player retains his ranking.

So, c'mon guys. It's been years since Tilden's time. Today there's nothing wrong with admitting you like to play a game where balls fly at your face.

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  1. Amusing and well written youth experience.One of the gay
    classics"The City and the Pillar" (Gore Vidal) made tennis
    attractive! Go on I love your blog

    Posted by: ben van liemt | Jun 24, 2004 4:53:30 AM

  2. I always like a cute tennis player. Roddick is supposedly dating Mandy Moore, but I think that's a clever cover-plot. No straight man should be that cute.

    Posted by: Ryan Zachary Hale | Jun 24, 2004 8:49:27 AM

  3. Advantage, Moya!!

    Posted by: bmw | Jun 24, 2004 9:48:31 AM

  4. I used to work at a country club when I was a teenager. Those locker room descriptions you wrote about today just brought back a flood of memories for me. Now, because of those smells, those lockers and those discarded pieces of clothing, I get all funny in the stomach when I walk into a men's locker room. Strange how those things play upon one's psyche years later.

    Posted by: Corin | Jun 24, 2004 11:28:17 AM

  5. Andy and Mandy (he haw!) have broken up in the past few weeks. I think I would actually have a heart attack if it came out the Andy was gay. I talked with him after his 2001 defeat by that ghastly hewitt at the US OPEN. He's such a nice kid and has such a nice "personality." Sitting right behind him on the Ad court side, I got to see how nice it was for quite a long time. To think that I let my one chance in left slip through my fingers would kill me.

    and one could only wish that Andre is gay (though considering how much of a man his wife is...). he's my all-time favorite player. w00. He, McEnroe and Arthur Ashe were the reasons I played in high school.

    Posted by: tekay | Jun 24, 2004 12:02:49 PM

  6. For our team I pick Schuettler of Germany and Moya of Spain. I am pretty sure Hewitt the Australian is straight - he has sock tan lines, not uncommonly seen in the hetro community.

    Posted by: DancingSlate | Jun 24, 2004 2:07:09 PM

  7. A football lockerroom has the same effect on me. Moya is my choice.

    Posted by: Mark | Jun 24, 2004 3:30:35 PM

  8. I think that we all want Moya to be gay. All Spanish men are a little gay anyway (ask Banderas). Then there's Philippoussis with his utterly disarming eyes. Then again, in a sample of only 11 subjects there is also the probability that not one of them is gay. But that would be devastating to think about.

    Love All!

    Posted by: Gabriel | Jun 24, 2004 3:48:51 PM

  9. One minute you're closing down your gallery, the next you're posting 11 pictures of shirtless athletes. Honey, someone's got to teach you some fiscal responsibility.

    Be that as it may, I'm voting for Henman. But, maybe it is just the British thing.

    Posted by: bouchemuse | Jun 24, 2004 6:29:45 PM

  10. Great post! Though I really wish it was Roddick that was a friend of Martina's I think if I had to put money on it I would have to say Moya...I mean really, look at that pic of him...what straight guy would pose like that? Our only hope is that there is a similar pic out there of Roddick staring back at Moya...hmmm...

    Posted by: Michael | Jun 24, 2004 7:20:32 PM

  11. If Agassi's wife is like a man - Hewitt's girlfriend is worse - also have you noticed that Hewitt has a guy who looks like Pat Rafter always in his box - aparently he is is his best mate from home and they have always been inseperable!!!

    Posted by: reidy | Jul 12, 2004 6:58:39 AM

  12. If Agassi's wife is like a man - Hewitt's girlfriend is worse - also have you noticed that Hewitt has a guy who looks like Pat Rafter always in his box - aparently he is is his best mate from home and they have always been inseperable!!!

    Posted by: reidy | Jul 12, 2004 6:58:57 AM

  13. If Agassi's wife is like a man - Hewitt's girlfriend is worse - also have you noticed that Hewitt has a guy who looks like Pat Rafter always in his box - aparently he is is his best mate from home and they have always been inseperable!!!

    Posted by: shan | Jul 12, 2004 6:59:46 AM

  14. I've always thought Jan Michael Gambill was gay. He played doubles for a while with openly gay player, Graydon Oliver. Jan Michael- if you don't know is usually ranked in the 40's, got to the quarters at Wimbledon and did alot of modelling- some great shirtless shots of him floating around the internet. Also, I've always thought there was something about Juan Carlos Ferrero. I've seen a video of him dancing with Alex Corretja- and Alex was lifting JC's shirt and feeling his abs/pecs. Both Hewitt and Philiposis have made homophobic statements in the past. A dicumentary made by a fringe player about the tour, has both of them making anti gay comments.

    Posted by: Doug | Dec 5, 2004 5:02:02 PM

  15. Agassi is married to Steffi Graf & they have two children.
    Hewitt was dumped by Kim Klisters early in 2005.In August 2005 he married an Aussie actress.Inbetween he spent alot of time with his best mate an Aussie rules footballer.There was & is a lot of speculation on how close their friendship is. There has always been a lot of talk about which side of the net Philippoussis plays.
    I'm from Adelaide, Australia, Hewitt's home town.

    Posted by: Rod | Aug 30, 2005 10:37:27 PM

  16. I'm betting on Roger Federer. Have you seen his "girlfriend" most recently at the US Open? She's so fat now. However, did anyone notice the guy sitting with her with the rainbow shirt on? Federer's boyfriend??? The announcers are always saying she's the girlfriend, I'm thinking she's just a facade. Federer all the way....

    Posted by: Tom | Sep 10, 2005 5:37:21 PM

  17. Don't know, but fantasy is Djokovic.

    Posted by: PJ | Jul 17, 2007 12:15:40 PM

  18. None of the tennis players are gay. Yes it is possible for Andy Roddick to be that hot, just look at some of the married actors out there, brad pitt and ben affleck are just as hot, but they are obviously not gay, atleast it doesn't look that way. I seriously doubt that any of the tennis players are gay, but if they are then hopefully they come out, I am sure life will be much easier that way. =)

    Posted by: Bill | Jul 31, 2007 10:01:28 AM

  19. How about James Blake?? I know he's probably not gay, but he is just too hot for words...

    Posted by: sportzgy | Aug 29, 2007 2:51:47 PM

  20. I can’t say enough good things about this shoe, whether you are traveling or reside in a warmer climate, check them out. They are the shoe equivalent to the little black dress.
    by Jordans 1 Phat Low

    Posted by: Jordans 1 Phat Low | Apr 29, 2010 5:45:05 AM

  21. I've always had this funny feeling about federer (and that, well before his current ranking/fame/status...). and then rumors began ,I don't quite remember when,but they were growing worse just before Mirka. Of course that doesn't prove anything, but there we are...

    Posted by: riff | Apr 7, 2011 7:00:26 PM

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