Margaret Court is reportedly set to end a four-year absence from the Australian Open and make an appearance at this year's tournament at Melbourne Park. The controversial Australian tennis great, whose legacy is heavily debated due to her divisive views and religious beliefs, hasn't made an appearance at the grand slam since 2020.
That year she was honoured in a ceremony on centre court to mark the 50th anniversary of her calendar year grand slam - when she won all four majors in 1970. However she hasn't been spotted at the Melbourne Park grand slam in three tournaments that have followed, reportedly because she has chosen to stay away.
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But according to the Herald Sun, the 81-year-old will make an appearance at the Open next week. It will come as a very unexpected development after Court appeared to have turned her back on the tournament she won 11 times.
Court holds the record for most grand slam titles in women's tennis history with 24 - one ahead of Serena Williams and equal with men's great Novak Djokovic. But her legacy has always been shrouded in controversy due to public comments about homosexuality, same-sex marriage and transgender children.
The Pentecostal minister described same-sex marriage as a "trend" in 2018. “I think there will be a price to pay for it in the future in the nation and people will see it’s not about marriage,” she told the Herald Sun at the time. “There will be a genderless generation. My thing was a marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Dozens of tennis players including Casey Dellacqua and Laura Robson have condemned Court's beliefs in the past. Robson reminisced about wearing a rainbow flag in her hair in a past appearance at the Australian Open, saying: "I wore some rainbow hairbands - I think it was on Margaret Court Arena obviously - after she came out and said some pretty inexcusable things in my opinion."
Margaret Cout's legacy in tennis a hotly-debated topic
Calls have been mounting in recent years for Margaret Court arena at Melbourne Park to be re-named. Tennis legends John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova famously displayed a sign on Margaret Court Arena in 2019 that said 'Evonne Goolagong Arena'. They were issued a warning by Tennis Australia at the time, but won widespread praise for taking a stand.
Among Court's more infamous comments she has stated “it’s very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality”, while also praising South Africa's Apartheid regime in the past. She previously accused 'lesbians' of ruining women’s tennis, while also boycotting Qantas due to the airline's support of gay marriage.
Despite her achievements being honoured at the Australian Open in 2020, she wasn't given the opportunity to speak. She was also conspicuously absent last year when a number of Aussie legends and past champions were invited to attend.
The decision to name her a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in the Australia Day honour's list in 2021 also divided opinion. Victorian Premier Andrews said at the time: “I do not support that. I do not believe that she has views that accord with the vast majority of people across our nation, that see people particularly from the LGBTIQ community as equal and deserving as dignity, respect and safety. I don’t believe she shares those views and I don’t believe she should be honoured because of that.”
Discussing her reported return next week, fans on social media have been heavily divided. While some believe she should be condemned, others think her achievements on the tennis court deserve recognition.
You spelled “bigot” wrong
— It’s Always Dan’s Fault (@this_november) January 16, 2024
Australia doesn't need more pentecostal madness - @ScottMorrisonMP is enough proof of this
Stop the Americansation of our politics, journalism and religion
— Alex.Elsworthy (@ElsworthyAlex) January 16, 2024
She was a great player and a former champion, and is entitled to respect for that, even if I don't agree with everything she says in church.
— Michael Shillito (@tealfooty) January 16, 2024
Margaret is worthy of her accolades. pic.twitter.com/CCHC7zyUba
— Andrew bluetick (@Andrewyeahnah) January 16, 2024
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