ATP Tour players today join their WTA Tour colleagues in celebrating International Women’s Day.
This year’s theme, #ChoosetoChallenge, is dedicated to further set aside bias and stereotypes, and to help forge a gender-equal world. In the world of sports, women have fought hard for equal recognition, respect and pay, and since the early 1970s, tennis has led the charge for unity.
ATP Tour players including Felix Auger-Aliassime joined in the global celebration of women’s rights. Players gave a shout out to the women in their lives who have inspired them the most. And it’s no surprise that moms received a lot of love.
“My mom would take the first position, she’s obviously the reason I’m here and she is the most important person in my life,” said Auger-Aliassime, echoing sentiments made by Diego Schwartzman and Alex de Minaur. “And my sister as well, she inspires me because of how much she works and how disciplined she is and how she goes about her life. My girlfriend, we’ve been together for almost two years now. These would be the three most important women in my life.”
Frances Tiafoe named American actor and producer Viola Davis as someone who has inspired him.“The most influential woman to me is definitely Viola Davis,” he said. “One of the best actors I’ve ever seen, and actually I don’t think she gets the love she deserves. She’s achieved so much, and went through such hardship. I’m truly a fan of her and everything she represents.”
This week’s ATP 250 tournament in Santiago, Chile, the Dove Men+Care Open, has special reason to celebrate International Women’s Day celebration.
Tournament Director Catalina Fillol gathered women on her team for a group photo on the tournament’s ‘virtual stadium’ court. The event is a family affair as all four Fillol sisters work at the tournament: Natalia (Hospitality), Cecilia (Administration & Finance) and Angela (Transport) are all key members of the tournament team. The Fillol sisters are the daughters of former ATP Tour president and Top 20 player Jaime Fillol.
“My grandfather used to always say, ‘It’s about much more than the ball’,” WTA President Micky Lawler said. “I wondered, when I was a child, what he meant by that, and what he meant was that sports drives a platform, and so, you want to use that platform to its greatest benefit.
“It’s about virtues, the virtues of being competitive, of working hard, of being the best that you can be. And then to create social change and to call for social justice.”
In recognition of International Women’s Day, WTA Tour players – past and present – came together to express some of the challenges they have endured and how they have persevered.
“When I was younger and starting to wear men’s clothes, I doubted myself,” said doubles champion Demi Schuurs. “But I was just being myself, and I think that’s really important in life. I don’t care what other people think about me and I just enjoy life, be myself and be happy. If you want to wear boys’ clothes, if you want to love a boy or girl, it doesn’t matter – be yourself, be happy and enjoy life.”
“Coming from the subcontinent, I think playing tennis itself was a big doubt that everybody had,” said Indian doubles star Sania Mirza. “I’ve been challenged from a very early age in my life, when I decided to play tennis and dreamt of playing Wimbledon one day. Every step of the way there were doubters, but obviously I am glad to have proven them wrong.
“I think that a lot of confidence came from within. My mom is one of the strongest women that I know. She was adamant and put in so much hard work for us to be where we are, for me to be where I am and I derive a lot of strength through her. She was the one who always believed that nothing is impossible.
“Never be scared to be the first person to do something, whether from your family or your country. If you believe in yourself and you work hard and love what you do, don’t ever be scared to be out-of-the-box. Don’t ever be scared to choose that for yourself and put everything that you have behind it.”
British player Francesca Jones echoed that sentiment. “Women have to build off each other. Ultimately, every woman has so much potential if they continuously put the work in and commit themselves. Just continue to believe in yourself and keep believing that you can achieve what you want,” she said.
“Every human being has doubts. It would be unrealistic of me to say that I feel 100 per cent confident in my ability on a daily basis. I’ve had people say before, especially when I was about 7 or 8 years old, that I wouldn’t be able to play tennis. That basically put fire in my belly to keep pushing forward and to commit to the sport and prove to myself that I can do whatever I set out to do. I am very lucky to have unbelievable parents who have always believed in me and given me the confidence to do what I need to do, and that makes it a little bit easier.”
Two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova also admitted to her share of doubts: “I had a few doubts in my life – of course, especially after the attack. I didn’t know if I ever could hold a racquet and play tennis again after surgery. I heard many voices saying I would never ever play again at a high level,” she admitted. “My dad and my mom never gave up. I think it was very natural to have this attitude from them.
“Never give up. That’s probably my motto. When you’re down, you never give up and try to be better.”
“After playing two years on the pro circuit, I started getting troubles with my back,” said World No. 113 Greet Minnen. “It was like a stress injury – I got it when I had just come out to everyone. It was something new for me and my family and I think it wasn’t easy to adapt for the first time when I told them I fell in love with the same gender.
“I had a lot of good role models in tennis. Martina Navratilova did so much for tennis and for the LGBT community. I would just tell anyone to be yourself, to not feel ashamed. You always have to be yourself and try to be happy, and that’s the most important thing in life.”
2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens echoed the importance of role models. “I come from a long line of incredibly strong women who have always given me the confidence to be myself and the resolve to keep striving. Find your hype team! Root for each other and pick each other up when times are tough.”
“As a Black American living in the United States, I am going to face racism, sexism and microaggressions,” said Leslie Allen, former World No.21. “My ability is going to be questioned, and I am going to be asked whether I belong in a certain space. That’s just how it is. But I learned at an early age how to deal with that. And I also learned that I needed to be twice as good to achieve. So, when you face those types of things, this is what I want you to know: It’s not about your inability, it’s about their inability to see your value and to appreciate and acknowledge your brilliance. It’s not about you.
“One sentence changed my life, and it came from two-time Wimbledon and US Open champion Althea Gibson. She looked at me and said, ‘Leslie, with your wingspan, you need to think about winning WTA tournaments.’ I had just told her, ‘I’d like to be in the main draw.’ It changed everything and I changed my goal. Within a couple of years, I was winning WTA tournaments. Set your goals higher than you believe you can achieve. You’ll be surprised with what you can do.”
Madison Keys, a US Open finalist, found her strength within. “Throughout my entire career, there have been a lot of times of doubt within myself. I think that’s life, honestly,” she said.
“I really feel good when I’m trying to support other people, highlighting other people. With my Kindness Wins foundation, I have been really inspired by all of the people whom we have gotten to know and highlighted, and seen all of the amazing work they have been doing.
“It’s finding a mantra that’s yours and what you believe in, and I think doing the small things could really help.”
“After my Achilles surgery, I doubted myself if I could overcome my rehab and practise in full again,” said Kiki Bertens, World No.11. “My parents have always told me that if you want something then just go for it. And try to do your best in whatever you are doing.”
“I had surgery on my wrist a few years back and I wasn’t able to play for a few months,” said Ons Jabeur, the highest-ranked Arab player in the world. “When coming back, people doubted me and basically told me to stop playing tennis. I always knew that I could overcome this, and I came back and even won my first junior title.
“My family stood by me and helped me get through this difficult period. They always made me believe in myself. I also had this person inside me that always believed that I could be a great tennis player, encouraged me to overcome this and this whole package helped me be where I am today.
“You have an inner power, everybody does. Try to use that power and make it worth your hard work.
“I have been very fortunate to find my place at organisations where being a woman would not prevent you from your goals. There are many closed doors that women have to face, but I truly believe that gender equality will continue to become a reality in the not-so-distant future.”