A defiant Margaret Court has returned to the Australian Open for the first time in four years, just days after a newspaper columnist sensationally criticized her as a “second-class human being” for her outspoken opinions.
The controversial Australian tennis legend, 81, and her husband Barrymore were photographed at Rod Laver Arena watching the three-set women’s quarter-final thriller between American Coco Gauff and Ukrainian opponent Marta Kostyuk on Tuesday.
It is Court’s first time attending the tournament since 2020, when the 50th anniversary of his 1970 title was honored.
Dressed in a pale pink top, she showed little emotion as she sat next to Australian tennis legend Rod Laver and his partner Susan Johnson.
The news that he was about to end his long absence from the tournament divided tennis commentators and fans last week.
Court, a conservative Christian, has long been the subject of controversy for comments on LGBTI issues, including claiming that being gay is a “choice.”
Margaret Court (right) was among the spectators at the Australian Open on Tuesday afternoon. It is her first appearance in the tournament.
Margaret Court (left) sat next to Australian tennis legend Rod Laver (right) and partner Susan Johnson (centre)
Court is in Melbourne for the final five days of the Grand Slam, where she won 11 singles titles and 12 doubles titles between 1960 and 1973.
A court at the Melbourne Park venue, Margaret Court Arena, was named in her honor in 2003.
Court remains the greatest player of all time with 24 Grand Slam singles titles, a record that no gender has ever surpassed.
Novak Djokovic could be on track to eclipse Court’s all-time record next Sunday night.
Currently, the pair are tied with 24 titles each.
Now a church pastor, Court has made headlines in recent years for her anti-gay stance. In 2017 she boldly claimed that tennis was “full of lesbians.”
He also previously called gay marriage “a trend,” called trans women “problematic” — especially in competitive sports — and said being gay is a “choice.”
Margaret Court and her husband Barry attended the three-set women’s quarter-final thriller between American Coco Gauff and Ukrainian opponent Marta Kostyuk.
Margaret Court (left) watched alongside Susan Johnson and legend Rod Laver (right)
Margaret Court looked dejected as she arrived at Perth Airport on Monday to fly to Melbourne.
Court’s divisive comments sparked a massive reaction from tennis greats and fans who called for the Margaret Court Arena to be renamed.
Legends John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova, who is openly gay, were among those who pushed for the court’s name change.
American fashion icon Anna Wintour also weighed in on the saga during a fiery keynote speech at an Australian Open event in 2019, where she attacked a court and said intolerance has no place in tennis.
“It is inconsistent that Margaret Court’s name is on the stadium that does so much to unite all people despite their differences,” he said.
“I think this is clear to anyone who understands the spirit and joy of the game. Margaret Court was a champion on the court, but a meeting point for players of all nations, preferences and backgrounds should celebrate someone who was also a champion outside her”.
Margaret Court left Perth with her husband Barry on Monday, days after a newspaper columnist branded her a “second-class citizen”.
There was more buzz after he received the highest individual honor available in the 2021 Australia Day Honours.
The then Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews, believed Court was not a worthy recipient due to his “shameful views on same-sex marriage”.
‘I don’t support that. I don’t think I should be honored. “I’m tired of having this debate, in one form or another, every summer,” Mr. Andrews said.
“But I don’t give those gongs, that’s someone else’s business… you might want to talk to them about why they think those opinions, which are shameful, hurtful and cost lives, should be respected.”
Margaret Court revealed in November 2019 that she did not know whether the 50th anniversary of her historic Australian Open Grand Slam would be honored at the upcoming tournament. She is pictured at the tournament in January 2020, the last time she attended.
Margaret Court remains the greatest player of all time with 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
News that Court was about to return to the current tournament sparked a fierce war of words last week after columnist Justin Smith branded her a “second-class citizen.”
“She’s a first class tennis player, beyond first class, she’s magnificent,” Smith said on Sky News program The Kenny Report.
“I also think she’s a second-class human being and she’s done terrible harm and said horrible things about transgender people and same-sex marriage and I think she’s a deluded Jesus freak.”
Presenter Liz Storer called Smith’s comments “disgusting”, before announcer Steve Price intervened.
“His comments about Margaret Court are out of line,” Price fumed.
‘The woman is an evangelical preacher in WA and that is her opinion. If she has the right to express her opinions, that is freedom of expression.
Smith responded: “She’s instilled that in other people, and I’m just instilling my views in her, so why not?”
Margaret Court (right) won 11 singles titles and 12 doubles titles at the Australian Open. She attended on Tuesday, her first appearance at the Grand Slam since 2020.
Court will be joined at Melbourne Park this week by the likes of local legends Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Evonne Goolagong-Cawley.
Goolagong was excited to catch up with her old rival.
‘Margaret helped me during my early years. [on tour] and when I played in Western Australia, I stayed with Margaret and [husband] Barry, and they really looked after me,” Goolagong-Cawley told Channel Nine’s Today program last week.
“I really want to see her, she’s still an old friend.”
There was drama at Margaret Court Arena on Monday night after a woman disrupted the fourth-round clash between Alexander Zverev and Cameron Norrie when a woman threw “Free Palestine” leaflets onto the court during the game.
A woman threw ‘Free Palestine’ leaflets at Margaret Court Arena during Australian Open fourth-round play on Monday.