Engaged Tennis Players Prefer to Be on the Same Side of the Net

This article was published by The New York Times

The first time Tara Moore and Conny Perrin attempted a relationship, it ended in a split.

The two professional tennis players, who were introduced in 2011 by a mutual friend at a tournament in France, found it too difficult to sustain a relationship through the constant travel of the tour and often separate schedules. Perrin, from Switzerland, even prefers playing on clay, the least favorite surface of Moore, a Hong Kong-born Londoner.

But they learned how to manage a life together and apart on the tennis tour, and now Moore and Perrin are believed to be the first active players in the WTA to be engaged to one another.

Moore proposed last September, on an island in Lake Garda in northern Italy. They plan to marry next year in Thailand.

“If she’s happy, I’m happy for her,” Perrin, 26, said. “If I’m happy, she’s happy for me. At the end of the day, we are like a team, also. At the end of the day, we are in a relationship, but she’s also my best friend and I’m her biggest fan.”

Only once during their engagement have they had to play each other: in April, in the second round of qualifying at a WTA tournament in Rabat, Morocco. Perrin won easily, 6-1, 6-2.

Moore said the experience did not feel as strange for them as many of their friends on tour feared it would be.

“It was like as if you played your best friend,” she said. “You go on court, play your match, then you give each other a little bit of space afterward, and then you’re fine. I think you just have to be mature enough to differentiate between a game and your life.”

There was soon business at hand for the pair: Perrin’s next match.

“We started speaking about her next match because I was her on-court coach,” Moore, 25, said. “We watched a bit of her next opponent’s match, and so the world goes back to normal. Life goes on.”

Professional tennis can be a lonely road for lower-ranked players like Perrin (No. 193) and Moore (No. 328). But they have each other to lean on.

“You don’t travel with a coach,” Moore said. “You don’t travel with your family that often. We’re really lucky that we do the same sport and have each other.”

Dating someone outside tennis, Perrin added, can lead to resentments.

“It’s different when you date someone else who doesn’t really understand tennis and all the traveling and stuff like that,” Perrin said. “We understand that of course we need to travel sometimes apart.”

The two mostly travel together now and are each other’s most frequent training partners.

“I think people would be shocked at how normal it is,” Moore said. “After we practice together, we give each other a high-five; it’s not like we start making out on the court. We’re best friends at the end of the day. That’s the foundation of our relationship, and that’s more important to me than anything else.”

They are also partners on the court, playing doubles together whenever possible.

“It’s like double the motivation because you have someone whom you want to have win just as much as you want yourself to win,” Moore said.

Playing together can also have challenges. Perrin said she was more easily distracted when she first began to play with Moore during their relationship.

“You just feel more,” Perrin said. “If she doesn’t feel good in the beginning, my focus will go a lot on her, more than if I play with someone else. With her, I’m more sensitive to it. But we’ve played more and more together, and we kind of get used to it.”

Moore and Perrin are playing this week at an I.T.F. tournament in Albuquerque. Moore notched her first two singles victories since April before losing in the quarterfinals, and has also reached the doubles semifinals with Perrin, who lost in the first round of singles.

Their careers are not remarkable, but their openness has proved to be.

Despite producing some of the earliest gay icons in Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, both of whom came out in the early 1980s, the WTA has had no openly gay stars since the retirement of Amélie Mauresmo in 2009. In the meantime, gay stars in women’s soccer and women’s basketball have risen to prominence.

The WTA tour has done little to acknowledge its L.G.B.T. legacy and has no pride initiatives, even as other sports organizations market rainbow-logoed merchandise. (No active male player on the ATP Tour has come out as gay.)

Steve Simon, chief executive of the WTA, said he thought a more vocal stance was not necessary.

“Where appropriate, the WTA will act in an appropriate manner,” Simon said. “But I’m very comfortable with where we are and how we’re handling it.”

Gay rights became a tennis talking point over the summer because of the same-sex marriage debate in Australia. Margaret Court, an Australian Grand Slam champion who is now a Christian pastor, is a leading voice against marriage equality and regularly attacks gay rights causes, including condemning the Australian doubles specialist Casey Dellacqua and her partner, Amanda Judd, after they had their first child in 2013.

Several players, including the openly gay Dutch player Richel Hogenkamp, have called for the Australian Open’s Margaret Court Arena to be renamed.

Moore and Perrin said they were comfortable with the support they felt from other players and tennis governing bodies.

“I’ve never had a tennis player come up to me and say something negative,” Moore said. “They’ve all been supportive, or saying, ‘When’s the wedding — can I come?’ ”

But there is no clear leader among gay players. The highest-ranked singles player to have spoken about being gay is Johanna Larsson of Sweden, ranked No. 85.

“The L.G.B.T. community has been part and parcel with the existence of the WTA,” said Cyd Zeigler, a founder of Outsports, a website which covers gay issues in sports. “Renee Richards, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King were three of the biggest headline-makers 35 years ago before we were talking about any of this. Through the ’90s with Gigi Fernández and Amélie Mauresmo, there has been a steady stream of high-profile L.G.B.T. women in the sport.

“So on the one hand, the presence of the L.G.B.T. community is an inherent part of the existence of the WTA now. On the flip side, it’s interesting that really for the first time in four decades, there is no high-profile L.G.B.T. woman competing on the tour, which is kind of odd, given the history and the incredible success of these women.”

Larsson, 29, spoke publicly about her sexual orientation for the first time this month, telling Sweden’s national public broadcaster SVT that she had feared losing sponsors by living more openly.

“I was dependent on people and their reactions,” Larsson said.

A similar fear of social and economic penalties for a same-sex relationship is a central plotline of the film “Battle of the Sexes,” which was released this weekend by Fox Searchlight Pictures. In addition to the film’s focus on King’s titular match against Bobby Riggs, the film also depicts her affair with Marilyn Barnett, who later outed King in a 1981 palimony suit, which drove away sponsors of women’s tennis. Navratilova has also said she lost sponsors after coming out.

Moore said players who come out on tour now should expect to be met with reassuring apathy.

“People just don’t care,” she said. “I’m very open about things, and I want to be open about things, because then people are less inclined to speak behind your back about it. If you have a question about it, ask me. I don’t want it to be something that people think I’m scared, sad or upset about. We’re very open. This doesn’t make us any different.”