Mauresmo: No. 1 in the World, Unknown in U.S.

Do you know who the world's top-ranked woman's tennis player is?


You're not the only one. Here in the United States she isn't much seen or talked about beyond the sports pages. And even there, she doesn't get much ink.

Her name is Amelie Mauresmo. She's French. She won at Wimbledon in July, and for years, sports writers have called her one of the world's most interesting women tennis players.

"She's a magnificent athlete. She's subtle and she has power," veteran tennis writer-commentator Bud Collins told ABC News. "She's marvelous to watch."

"She is a radiant person," he continued. "Lots of confidence in herself. She's attractive, she's smart and a terrific woman."

There's another aspect to her character, which Collins told us he no longer bothers to write about because it's not an issue.

In 1999, at the age of 19, Mauresmo, responding to insults that had surfaced in the media, revealed that she was gay. Talking about her sexual orientation openly, she said her love for her girlfriend, who at the time was Sylvie Bourdon, greatly helped her game.

Anti-gay barbs of a surprising and very public nature had come from other women tennis stars, most famously from Martina Hingis, who called Mauresmo "half a man" after Mauresmo defeated her.

"She never 'came out' -- she was always out," said Collins. "She's very straightforward about it."

Open Season

Having won two legs of tennis' Grand Slam, the Australian Open and Wimbledon, earlier this year, Mauresmo, 27, is currently the world's No. 1 ranked woman player and the top seed at the U.S. Open, now under way in New York. On Wednesday she cruised into the tournament's semi-final round after beating 12th seeded Dinara Safina, 6-2, 6-3.

The U.S. Open, of course, opened last week with a special tribute to tennis great -- and open lesbian -- Billie Jean King. The United States Tennis Association renamed the Flushing Meadows, Queens, tennis center after her (the main stadium inside the complex bears the name of the late great Arthur Ashe).

The many French journalists now lurking around the Billie Jean King Center bear witness to the hero Amelie Mauresmo has already become back home.

But again, here in the United States, she struggles to receive the recognition due a player of her stature. Is it because of her sexuality?

"I've never been asked that question so often as this past week," said Micky Lawler, head of women's tennis at Octagon, an international sports management firm that has represented Mauresmo since she was 14.

"Here in the U.S., the angle is always she's a homosexual. ... This is the only country where that happens.

"I don't know why this is so front and center here," said Lawler, who grew up in Holland and has lived in the States for several years. "Maybe it's because Americans are more open and able to ask the question, or maybe it's because people here are just more conservative. I don't know."

"There won't be any pushback on my end because she's a lesbian," said one broadcast sports marketing executive who asked not to be named because he had not received clearance to speak on behalf of his company.

"Tennis is a very gender-neutral sport that reaches upscale adults 25 to 54," he said. "In that demographic, the issue of sexual orientation becomes less relevant."

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