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Toronto Star

Aug. 16, 2001

Rosie DiManno

AMELIE Mauresmo is a sexual bombshell.

Not the cheesecake type. No pouty Lolita flirt, š la Anna Kournikova, or fashionista daredevil, like either of the Williams sisters, with their barely-there court cutouts stretched ridiculously taut.

No, this is the kind of sex bomb that sprays shrapnel.

Mauresmo, the strapping Frenchwoman with the porterhouse shoulder blades, is probably the most famous lesbian athlete (active division) in the world today, not counting the magnificent Martina Navratilova, who fits in some doubles tennis as her schedule permits, including a match yesterday at the tournament formerly known as the Canadian Open.

Certainly tennis has never been lacking in sisters of ******, from Billy-Jean King to Virginia Wade, Navratilova to Jana Novotna. It's just that Mauresmo came out as both a tennis ingenue and disingenuous **** at the same time, with a candour that was jolting to the world of women's tennis. This is, after all, a coy universe that has for years now been selling the product to the public as a nubile babefest. And lesbians never prosper in sports, not on the endorsement circuit anyway.

Yet there was 19-year-old Mauresmo at the Australian Open in 1999, not only announcing her arrival as a phenom by surging to the final - dumping world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport in the process - but declaring her sexual preferences by openly canoodling with her much-older girlfriend, a woman who, as if this story needed spicing, happened to manage a Saint-Tropez brasserie called Le Gorille. That squeeze, Sylvie Bourdon, was known to admonish Mauresmo in public after a loss.

Davenport, herself a 6-foot-2 behemoth, said of the muscle-cut Mauresmo at the time: "I thought I was playing a guy." Martina Hingis, who beat the upstart challenger in the Open final, chimed in with: "She's here with her girlfriend, she's half a man.''

Mauresmo, naively, was taken aback and hurt. But onlookers were just as astonished by the young woman's physique - those shoulders! - as her brazen homosexuality. Which, naturally, raised the spectre of 'roids. Tennis doesn't test for performance-enhancing drugs. And Mauresmo, right there in her official bio, claimed to hate off-court training. So whence the muscles?

"I had to get used to that, the physical practice, and to like it," Mauresmo said yesterday, after handily dismissing Russian Elena Likhovtseva 6-0, 6-3, in the second round at York U.

Mauresmo, currently ranked seventh in the world, is seeded third in Toronto, what with the conga line of allegedly infirm dropouts. Before recurring back problems forced her to withdraw from the semis at 2001 Sydney, she'd enjoyed a good run, collecting her second and third career singles within a fortnight. Sitting out the spring hard-court season, Mauresmo charged back to a third consecutive title at Amelia Island, extending her win streak to 14 matches. Two weeks in a row she defeated Hingis, achieving a career-high world ranking of No. 5.

All this came after a disappointing 2000, during which her tennis regressed and her fame curdled. Now, divesting herself of Bourdon, Mauresmo has righted her game, one that features power over cunning and a ferocious single-handed backhand.

Both the player and her game have matured. "I'm a different person now, more calm.''

Also, more reticent. No longer does Mauresmo provide frank answers to reporters' questions, certainly not about her lifestyle. Somewhere along the line, she's been groomed and edited.

So yesterday she resisted a discussion on how women's tennis is judged by pulchritude as much as talent. This was a subject on which Serena Williams had just blithely proclaimed: "People like to watch feminine ladies.''

Mauresmo, deliberately missing the point, observed: "Fashion is more of a focus for women than men.''

That wasn't the point, actually. But it's the only one Mauresmo chose to make - off the court.
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