After Billie Jean King’s comments 24 hours earlier about Margaret Court it was no surprise that almost all the players who came into the media centre here on Saturday were asked if they agreed with the 1968 Australian Open champion.
King had said that she would refuse to play in Margaret Court Arena in the light of her former rival’s outspoken comments about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, but judging by the reactions of those players who were questioned there will be no mass boycott of the second show court when the year’s opening Grand Slam event begins here on Monday.
While nobody was agreeing with Court’s views – the 11-times Australian Open champion opposes same-sex marriage and thinks tennis is “full of lesbians” – the common consensus among the players was that they would play their matches wherever tournament organisers send them.
“I don’t agree with what Margaret Court said,” Britain’s Johanna Konta said. “However, she’s entitled to her own opinion and if I’m scheduled to play on Margaret Court, I will go out there and compete. It’s a tournament decision where they put me.”
Konta spoke as sensibly and eloquently about the controversy as anyone, suggesting that the question of whether Court’s name should be removed from the arena was a question for Tennis Australia.
“I think it’s unfortunate that this whole thing has even occurred, because it does overshadow why her name is on the court,” Konta said. “It’s not because of her beliefs, it’s because of her achievements in the sport. It’s unfortunate it’s kind of meshed together when they’re actually quite separate.”
She added: “I think most, if not all of us, once the schedule is out, we’re going out there to play, regardless of what court we’re on. It’s not nice to be answering these sorts of questions in press. It’s not really what this tournament is about. It’s not what these sorts of sporting events are about. They’re about equality, they’re about showcasing men and women, wheelchair tennis, celebrating tennis in that way.”
Johanna Konta’s route to the Australian Open final
Meanwhile Konta confirmed that she had recovered from the hip injury which had forced her to retire hurt from her quarter-final in Brisbane last week.
“What I felt out there was a lot worse compared to how actually it was,” she said. “It was more a spasm than anything, so that was very lucky. Since then it’s settled down nicely.”
Konta said she was also successfully managing the foot problem which had troubled her at the end of last year.
“I irritated my sural nerve in my foot in February last year,” she explained. “The sural nerve is really close to the surface and you can just feel it by brushing along. It’s still active but not painful. I’m managing it, I still wear a de-sensitising patch during matches to put it even more out of my mind.”