TW: Physical and verbal abuse

A series of five portraits featuring women who redefined our sport.

Their influence reached far beyond center court. Empowering generations of female athletes to define their own voice and combat gender stereotypes.

Curated by : Caitlin Thompson, Publisher of Racquet, an award winning print magazine and media company

Montreal native Mary Pierce, a player reared mostly on the Florida courts who played (and won multiple slams) under the French flag is for me one of tennis’ most inspiring stories. Her booming strokes and massive serve place her squarely in the camp of practitioners of the style of play known in the late ‘90s as Big Babe tennis (as coined by the legend Mary Carillo) along with Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams and later, Maria Sharapova. Her years spent baking in the Bradenton sun under the tutelage of famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) coach Nick Bollitieri should be evident in her first-strike style of play, but it’s her transformation from promising junior to grand slam champion to gracious steward of the game that has always interested me more.

Tennis has long had an extra need for policies designed to protect people in the sport from abuse. That the tours don’t have a viable domestic violence policy, unlike the majority of other sports whose rules would have seen at least two male players as well as two current father coaches benched and put under investigation, is a testament to this difficulty. Pierce has served as a cautionary tale: Her coach, who was also her father Jim, famously motivated her to greatness, but at the cost of physical and verbal abuse that targeted her as well as many others in the sport. By the early ‘90s, his presence on the tour became so disruptive that a rule was created specifically to oust abusive members of a player’s entourage. That Pierce still managed to keep herself together, win slam titles and a tour final, and ultimately forgave him and found catharsis in finding faith and sharing her story is a testament to her strength and grace. Now retired, she spends her time broadcasting for French television and more important to her, has created a tennis tour in her adopted home of Mauritius to expand access to tennis for young players from that part of the word, a fitting journey for the big-hearted player she is.

The women trailblazers in tennis series is the latest feature of the gender equity program. 

Tennis Canada and National Bank have partnered to create meaningful actions and change for gender equity in tennis.

The aim of the program is to create opportunities for women and girls in tennis, encouraging them to continue playing and enticing even more to pick up a racquet, become life-long participants, coaches, officials, and professionals, and reap the benefits of an active lifestyle and personal growth through sport.

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